Notwithstanding few sporadic measures being taken at the level of central government and by few state governments to address sanitation related problems, albeit belatedly, no one can deny the fact that the impact of deplorable state of sanitation over the decades has been many and multi-dimensional on health and hygiene of common Indians and also on the country's much talked about stories of 'economic prosperity' in terms of GDP growth rate.
It is really hard to believe this hard fact that more than 60% of the households in Uttarakhand, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are without toilets. Yes, the situation in Sikkim, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh is definitely far better in this regard.
It has also been a painful reality that inadequate supply of clean and drinkable water together with lack of toilet and urinal facilities in schools are major cause of poor attendance and health problems of the children. As far as adolescent girls are concerned, they tend to drop out of the school due to these reasons. Generally speaking, women and girls, particularly in villages find it very embarrassing and insulting for not having the facility of a toilet at home as they have no other option but to defecate in the open only after sunset, that too at the cost of their health and personal safety.
It is a common knowledge that defecation in open is fraught with high risk of microbial contamination of water which is a major cause of diarrhoea and other intestinal infections among the children. Health problems pertaining to a large section of population due to the aforesaid reasons has a multidimensional impact on our economy in terms of productivity losses, increased expenses in the name of providing medical treatment by the government besides having damaging effect on the Shining/Rising India image internationally. If one calculates the net financial loss to the exchequer for not having the basic sanitation facilities, it would be an astounding figure.
Everyone knows for sure, where there is will, there is a way, and so is the cardinal truth that where there is a malady, there must have a remedy. And the remedy of this malady is not far- fetched either. It can very well be in place by initiating and/or accelerating few time bound action plans. State Governments have to incorporate it on their top agenda items for implementation and Central government to provide adequate financial support in this regard. All Gram Panchayats (GPs) have to identify the needy households and ensure provision of toilet within the stipulated time period of maximum two years by availing the required support from the local government authorities.
In order to lend active moral support to this top priority government sponsored program, mass awareness campaign is required to be undertaken effectively on an ongoing basis by all GPs and other elected bodies among the affected masses particularly the poor and illiterates. Yes, media has a great role to play in this regard. It must focus its full attention on this vital issue and report the progress and also the anomaly, if any, being adopted by local implementing machinery regularly.
It goes without saying that state governments have the prime role to play in these directions which all concerned need to demand as their Basic Human Right. Nevertheless, the civil society at large must also come forward in a big way to act as an enabler and also as an informal monitoring entity of the whole issue of sanitation in the country on an ongoing basis so as to effectively fight this shameful malady conclusively before long.
Milan K. Sinha is a freelance writer. He has worked in Banking and Insurance sector for three decades following three years of active writing in various newspapers and magazines. Presently he is engaged in stress management, wellness and awareness activities besides freelance writing.