Maharashtra may be the country’s fastest urbanising state but about 41 million people or members of every third household defecate out in the open because they do not have access to proper sanitation. This sad truth has prompted the state government to set a target of making all its 265 cities free of open defecation within three years as a priority in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission.
State government officials, however, have conceded that the goal seems to be ambitious because cities in Maharashtra alone account for about 4.1 million people or 8.32 lakh households that do not have private or community toilet facilities, according to the latest census numbers. For rural Maharashtra, the scenario is grimmer with members of nearly 56 per cent households forced to defecate publicly.
The plan now is to pump massive funds to install better toilet facilities and overcome the shortage of toilets. Replicating a model already launched for rural Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has now decided to provide Rs 8,000 per toilet from the state’s resources and Rs 4,000 per toilet from central funds to overcome the shortage in urban agglomerates. Senior state officials said that urban local bodies have also been directed to fund up to Rs 5,000 per toilet from their own resources additionally for building toilets for households lacking such facilities. “The civic bodies will have to utilise funds released to them as per recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission,” a senior official said.
The state has set a target of declaring 50 cities “open-defecation free” by October 2, 2015, as the first milestone for its ambitious plan. To achieve it, the Fadnavis government is concentrating on emerging towns and smaller cities where the shortage is not as chronic. Official records indicate that there are 80 cities where the toilet shortage when compared to the number of households falls in the 0-1000 range. Sources also said Mumbai, where sanitation problem is most acute, will be tackled in the last phase. Nearly 60,000 households in the country’s financial capital do not have toilet facilities and use open defecation; whereas another 10.71 lakh households are forced to use community toilets.
Middle path — group and community loos
For households where providing access to individual toilet blocks is not viable, the state has plans to encourage building community or group toilets. “A group toilet can be constructed for a cluster of houses. The community toilet model has already helped bringing down the open defecation rate in the state,” an official said. Unlike a community toilet, a group toilet is one that is shared by less than four households, which partly helps shift the responsibility for a toilet to the private realm where it belongs, the official explained.
People who live in slums near the Bandra Railway Station in Mumbai use railway tracks to defecate. “There are places where public toilets have already been constructed; but people do not use them. Most of the people in such slums hail have migrated from small villages, and are often not used to the practice,” another official pointed out. To scale up the project and achieve milestones, the government has also decided to spend on spreading the “Use toilets” message. We will target areas where open defecation is the most chronic, using innovative means to discourage people from doing so. “ the official said.
Besides impacting the overall living index in the state, open defecation also poses a serious health threat. In India, hundreds of children die every year because of disease transmitted through human waste.
Solid waste — A ticking bomb
Officials also admitted that lack of adequate solid waste management facilities in cities also posed a serious threat to urban living in Maharashtra. The state is working on a plan to encourage setting up of decentralised waste processing facilities in municipal wards to make a difference.
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