India’s urban areas are at the doorstep of officially becoming totally open-defecation free—wherein not a single person is found answering nature’s call in the open for want of access to toilets. The only things standing in the way are the data from West Bengal, and Covid-19.
As per the latest survey figures, 99 per cent of the Indian cities under urban local bodies have become open defecation free (ODF). However, the survey of the urban bodies could not be done in time in West Bengal due to the pandemic.
“After the pandemic, if corona allows our colleagues in West Bengal to conduct the surveys, that little gap — between 100 per cent and what we have registered on the 151st birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi — will be made up,” Hardeep Puri, Union Minister of Urban Affairs, said on Friday while commemorating six years of the government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Mission.
West Bengal government officials said they were ready with all documents but the central agency engaged for the survey could not carry out the job due to the pandemic.
State Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim said, “The West Bengal government’s recent performance is exemplary in SBM. In solid waste management, it has already ensured 90% door to door collection and the rate of segregation is improving steadily.”
He added, “As far as ODF is concerned, Quality Council of India is visiting ULBs as third party and has declared more than 20 ULBs as ODF, and 75 ULBs have been self-declared ODF. QCI inspection was slowed down because of corona as they could not attend West Bengal in time. Overall our state is doing very well in SBM, which has been recently appreciated by MoHUA secretary and other officials. In November, he personally came and appreciated our effort.”
A senior state government official said, “We were ready with documents. Now QCI has started its work after a long gap, so the fault is not ours.”
Union ministry officials said the job will be done in a month’s time. “From a position of zero ODF states and cities in 2014, 99 per cent of our cities have today become ODF. After completing the assessments in 45 cities of West Bengal (to be completed in about a month’s time-pending due to Covid), it will become 100 per cent,” said a spokesperson of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
Ministry data show that of the 4,372 cities in India to be made ODF, 4,323 stand declared as ODF, which is 99 per cent. Of them 4,204 (about 96 per cent) stand as ODF verified cities.
Open defecation, however, has been a problem mainly in rural areas, and India has claimed that as of last year, all 5,99,963 villages of the country have attained ODF status by construction of the required toilets under Swachh Bharat Mission-Rural scheme. On Gandhi Jayanti last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the achievement of this target.
Puri said that all the schemes in the urban development space launched since Independence paled in comparison with Swachh Bharat Mission. “In the six years of the Modi government, we have spent more than Rs 11 lakh crore in the urban space, which is a quantum jump from Rs 1.55 lakh crore spent in the 10 years of the previous political dispensation,” he said.
As per the Centre’s figures, solid waste management processing has gone up to 67 per cent from 18 per cent in 2014. Puri said the target is to reach 100 per cent by the time India celebrates 75 years of Independence in 2022 in the 500 Indian cities under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme.
“In solid waste management, from a meagre 18 per cent of solid waste that was being processed in 2014, we have gone up to 67 per cent of waste being processed, and more than 77 per cent wards are practising source segregation,” said Durga Shanker Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
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