Millennium Post

Awareness is as vital as facilities

North Indian Villagers rank toilets as a lowly asset, writes Nilanjan Banik.

Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pedneker starrer Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is not only about Swachh Bharat (Clean India) but also about women empowerment. This film is a biopic of Anita Narre from Madhya Pradesh, who deserted her husband's house as her in-laws didn't have a toilet.

In reality, Indians are indifferent to toilets. In a first ever scientific attempt we determine the demand for toilets (for a detailed analysis, see Anurag Banerjee, Nilanjan Banik, and Ashvika Dalmia, Demand for Household Sanitation in India: Using NFHS-3 data, Empirical Economics, April 2017). Ranking the preference for having a toilet against 20 other consumer durables – cot, watch, mattress, chair, bicycle, table, electric fan, television, pressure cooker, radio, motorcycle, water pump, mobile telephone, sewing machine, refrigerator, tractor, animal drawn cart, thresher, and computer – toilets ranked a lowly 12 out of 21.
India still has the highest number of people defecating in the open, around 600 million. Even targeted intervention has not helped. In 2014, members of Parliament, both from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, adopted 702 villages to make them free from open defecation. In 2016, but only 131 villages (18.66 per cent) from among 702 villages are open defecation-free.
Under the Swachh Bharat mission, the government plans to build 110 million toilets across India between 2014 and 2019. Rs 62,009 crore is earmarked for this mission. The underlying presumption is India has a large number of poor people who cannot afford to construct a toilet, and there is thus need for government intervention.
Our study brings out an interesting insight about women empowerment. The likelihood of households in the Northeast Indian states of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya, and the southern state of Kerala, using a toilet facility is much higher than that of a household in Delhi (the reference state in our analysis). In fact, in Kerala communities like the Nairs and Ezhavas, and in Meghalaya the Khasi, Jaintias, and the Garo tribes (comprising a majority of the population) traditionally practiced matriarchy, where women have power in activities relating to allocation, exchange, and production.
Women are more likely to use toilets due to perceived benefits of dignity and safety. In contrast, households from Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu are less likely to use toilets in comparison to a household from Delhi. Results also suggest a strong case for imparting education and public awareness, especially, among the female cohort. A household in which a woman has attained higher education (18 years of schooling) is 3.1 times more likely to use toilets.
These results have some obvious policy implications. First, the government should concentrate on creating demand for the use of toilets. Policymakers must ensure that a larger proportion of funds is directed towards social marketing and educating people about hygiene. Rather than counting the number of toilets being built, the approach should be about tracking a region-wise number of open defecators and then educating people about the ill-effects of open defecation. It is to be noted that in India almost half (48 per cent) of children under five years of age are stunted. A reason for this is diarrhea caused from open defecation.
Polluter pays principle should be enacted. To enforce this, the government may think about creating green police, whose job will be to impose fine on the offenders. Hopefully, this will stop people from littering in the open.
Second, as female literacy is important, it would be wise to target women and actively involve them in policy-making. It is not too uncommon to see women defecating in the open, particularly alongside the railway tracks and on the countryside. This has been the primary cause of another evil - women getting raped.
Finally, there is a need for government policies specifically focusing on improving sanitation in rural areas. Availability of water, absence of seepage, strong roof and walls, proper functioning doors with handles etc. are all important factors. A reason for Indian defecating in the open is because of unavailability of improved sanitation facilities. It is important to build adequate number of toilets and provision of garbage bins. This to take care of 'I can't find it syndrome': people justifying littering because of inadequate number of garbage bins.
Few nudging strategies may come in handy. Construction of toilets in the vicinity of field, provision of water, and maintaining clean toilets are expected to give results. The problem of water during bad rainfall years can be solved by educating villagers about rain water harvesting techniques. Similarly, to keep toilets clean it is essential to outsource the cleaning activities to local NGOs, or any private third party. To prevent the use of toilets for other purposes such as store rooms, emphasis should also be given for building community toilets. The idea is to generate demand for a public resource in a safer, healthier, and cleaner environment. The Indian government can save money as this is also a cheaper option than building toilets for every household in the village. Importantly, there will be employment generation opportunities for local youth, who will maintain the public toilet facilities. IPA
(The author is Professor, Bennett University, Greater Noida. Views expressed are strictly personal.)

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