A Dream of open defecation free India? Decolonise and innovate urban sanitation to reach those left behind

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Abstract Summary
Home to 15 per cent of world’s urban population, India accounts for 48 per cent of the global population defecating in open (UNICEF, WHO, 2014). As an end result of sanitation deprivation, open defecation has implications on economy, tourism, public health, environment, education and safety. An action in this direction is therefore, imperative for urban India. Content analysis of sanitation policies in post- Independence India indicates that open defecation and urban sanitation in the country has been associated with several policies, agendas and efforts- running separately for rural and urban centres. The human right of adequate sanitation- associated with Universal Service Obligation is still a luxury which millions can’t afford, and anyone concerned with its upkeep or cleanliness, is linked with the notion of ‘dirty’. The latter idea emerges from the Laws of Manu, famously known as the ‘Manav Dharma Shastra’ of 500 B.C., which identifies toilets and the caste cohort ‘responsible’ for cleaning them as untouchables and thus calls for spatial and social segregation from place of habitation. On the other end, India boasts of having one of the earliest sanitation systems intertwined with town planning- as excavated from the Indus valley civilization in 2600 BC. This becomes intriguing in light of the sanitary history, ideologies and principles of British India- which Independent India and its citizens knowingly or unknowingly continue to propagate in their efforts to eradicate open defecation. Critique of policy frameworks, missions and schemes aimed at addressing sanitation deprivation, also highlight that a large number of contemporary sectoral policies have a restrictive view of sanitation, especially with regards to ‘open defecation’- the latter finds no mention in any policy framework, until the launch of Clean India Mission (or ‘Swachh Bharat Mission) in October 2014. It is also evident that certain colonial practices and policies of social and spatial segregation that have persisted in Independent India, are critical in perpetuating sanitation deprivation. Gaps in urban sanitation chain and a ‘crisis management’ approach to deal with sanitation deprivation further aggravates the problem. The National Capital Territory of Delhi is identified for the project. Various sanitation policies applicable to the city have been analysed within the pre-defined evaluation criteria. Following this, statistical data relating to the extent of sanitation deprivation in Delhi, was collected from the Office of the Registrar General of India, the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board as well as local bodies; thereafter subjected to empirical analysis. It is inferred that- first, out of 36.26 lakh (~3.626 million) households in Delhi, nearly 1 lakh (~ 0.1 million) defecate in the open (ORGI, 2011). Second, in this cohort of open defecating households, nearly 48 per cent are slums. Third, gaining access to latrine facility does not necessarily put a stop to open defecation. Fourth, it does not guarantee that waste generated is collected or collected waste is treated. Fifth, the city functions at less than 50 per cent of treatment capacity, where its treated waste as well as untreated waste ends up mixing at site of disposal, or the city’s surface and groundwater resources. Comparative analysis of availability of latrine facilities within Delhi in 2001 (ORGI, 2001) and 2011 (ORGI, 2001) and 2018 data on Clean India Mission, indicates a significant improvement in the extent of availability of sanitation facilities outside premises. However, correlating these numbers with the archives of urban local bodies attributes the change to the collaboration of Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Sulabh International during 2003-to-2006, wherein numerous Community Toilet complexes were constructed and later used for advertisement panels, and post 2014- through the Clean India Mission drive. Thus, available statistical, census data are at-best an indicative of availability of latrine facility, remaining silent on indicators of accessibility, adequacy and actual instances of open defecation. Scaling down city diagnostics to ground-zero, which includes informal settlements and public spaces, where open defecation persists despite access to latrine facility. Following comprehensive review of institutional mandates and mission statements, data is collected from government and non-government institutions. Majority of the data collected comes from the headquarters and zonal offices of the Delhi Jal Board, the three civic bodies of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, Delhi Development Authority and the Office of the Registrar General of India, Government of India. Multiple interviews were conducted with identified key stakeholders working in these government institutions, NGOs, select slum clusters- where emphasis was given to include women, children and the elderly in the sample surveyed. Contrary to a belief which presumes a direct relationship between open defecation and slum population, analysis of data indicates a prominence of open defecation in peripheral districts of Delhi, which have comparatively less slum population than the inner districts. Furthermore, it was discovered that in these peripheral districts, even though water supply has been provided to almost all settlements through piped network or borewell, sewerage network is far from reach. A thumb rule of 80 per cent of water supply becoming wastewater (Government of India, 1996) when applied to these peripheral districts, further reinforces a need to adopt measures of decentralised wastewater management. In slums where latrine facilities are provided in form of community toilets or mobile toilets, inhabitants are either non-users, or users by day and open defecators by night. In the end, to eradicate open defecation from a society whose foundation is still influenced by Manu Smriti, and decades of social, physical segregation and accompanied psychological differentiation brought upon with the Sanitary Revolution in mid-19th century, sanitary foundations need to be dug deep and a radical change in the current approach is required- ensuring no one is left behind, through more equitable and environmentally sustainable interventions and innovations.
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ISO88695
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