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Awareness before toilets

Under the <g data-gr-id="28">Swachh</g> Bharat Mission, 480 public toilet seats will be installed at 80 different locations in Delhi in the next three months. After days of wrangling, both the Centre and Delhi government have come together for a progressive initiative. According to news reports, various models of public toilets, including the hugely popular ‘NAMMA’ model being implemented in Tamil Nadu and the ones created by the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) were discussed in the meeting. The <g data-gr-id="30">NAMMA</g> model of public toilets was evolved based on the suggestion of former President Abdul <g data-gr-id="37">Kalam,</g> when he was the Principal Scientific Advisor to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998. In fact, even current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his appreciation for <g data-gr-id="31">NAMMA</g> toilets. News reports go on to further suggest that the four urban local bodies of Delhi will identify 20 locations each for <g data-gr-id="36">installing</g> public toilet complex with six seats each. Both the ‘NAMMA’ and DUAC models will be used for building them. 

The National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) will also support part of the expenditure to be incurred under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Under <g data-gr-id="33">Swachh</g> Bharat Mission in urban areas, 1,25,398 individual household toilets, 9,156 public toilet seats and 1,982 community toilet seats are to be built by 2019 besides ensuring 100 percent Solid Waste Management. This is estimated to cost Rs 350 crore. However, research has shown that the mere construction of toilets will not change anything unless further emphasis is placed on sanitation <g data-gr-id="39">behavior</g> changes.

Initially, after the Prime Minister’s numerous speeches on toilets, it did seem that the government would initiate a nationwide behaviour change campaign. In October last year, a National Sanitation Awareness Month was also launched to promote awareness on war footing. Suffice to say, the government’s emphasis on promoting behaviour change has taken a backseat. According to Nikhil Srivastav and Aashish Gupta, who are researchers with the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), “The new sanitation policy now caps the allocation to information, education and communication (IEC), the expenditure head for behaviour change campaign activities, at 8% of total allocation to rural sanitation. These funds have been reduced almost by half”. What this means is that the expenditure on promoting behaviour change per open defecator has been reduced significantly. Although, in the cities and suburbs, it is mainly a case of accessibility, the emphasis on behavioural changes cannot be emphasised more. 

One only has to look at the levels of open defecation that take place in the national capital to understand why more expenditure needs to be diverted to promoting behavioural changes.  For example, the residents of Delhi would earlier use public toilets maintained by Sulabh International, which would charge Rs 1-2 per use. Despite such low costs, many of Delhi’s citizens found it more convenient to defecate in the open. The Centre, in consonance with the Delhi government, therefore, must up the ante on initiating such sanitation awareness campaigns.
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