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How Lalit Bhanot can help Sulabh Sauchalaya

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
September 29, 2010 19:37 IST
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People like Bhanot have uses; we just know how to spot the opportunities and use them. Since he knows the difference between the world's best sanitation habits and those in India, we should use him, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

I think Lalit Bhanot, the official of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee should be indoctrinated in good toilet practices, including how the toilets are to be built, maintained, and how to use it. Then he should be made the brand ambassador for Sulabh Sauchalaya. This poor gentleman, wittingly or unwittingly brought to the fore the critical issue of hygiene -- or the lack of it -- to the front burner but got pilloried for that.

If he has to be faulted, it is only for insisting that India had different standards of hygiene than the western world and if the toilets in the Games Village in New Delhi were not up to the mark, then it was up to the participating nations to cope with it as best as they could. Thank the good Lord that he did not say if the toilets were dirty, then the sportsmen could well find the bushes in the campus and relieve themselves behind them.

He just forgot, trying to cover up the total lack of speed in doing things properly -- that is a good measure of efficiency -- was expected of him. Especially when his boss Suresh Kalmadi had boasted that the CWG 2010 would be better than the Beijing Olympics, it is the country's duty to provide the best. That includes clean toilets, running water etc. And those facilities are for even Indian athletes who may or may not have a toilet, whether clear or dirty at home.

Unfortunately, the focus that Bhanot provided was lost in the general din about the corruption, the inflated invoices, the sloth et al and that is a big disservice to the nation which is struggling with health issues because we do have poor toilet practices.

We don't even have a vast majority of the population which understands what good hand washing practices are. Worldwide, except in India, the campaign to promote better hand-washing has helped in cutting spread of infection. It has been an uphill task to educate Indians and the first and foremost among those who need this help is Bhanot.

The problem is that even if a good toilet is provided, we in India don't seem to know how to use it. Go to any public toilet and you will know, including on trains, restaurants and yes, municipal offices across the country and see the mess they are in. If that is how people use these facilities, one wonders how it would be at home. I am not talking of the upper middle classes who have better toilets and know how to use them -- I am talking of the aam janata.

Of course, when majority do not have toilets, how would they know how to use them?                    

Sulabh Sauchalaya, perhaps the only organisation keener on sanitation than the best of the civic corporations across the country, says that only a third of the population has sanitation facilities. In rural areas, the coverage is only 22 per cent and in the urban sector, 59 per cent according to WHO and UNICEF assessments of 2004. The majority of the people defecate in the open. Open defecation defiles ecology, fouls water resources and makes areas of inhabitation stink.

Using Planning Commission estimates, it reinforces the argument that India has poor sanitation. Of the 76 lakh dry latrines, 54 lakh are in urban areas contrary to the belief that such poor conditions are the prerogative of the rural domain. Which, by the 1991 Census meant that about three-fourth of the population have no toilets. That bucket toilets prevail in the country which is not only demeaning for the person carrying it away but with dry toilets, a major hazard. Most civic bodies do not have covered drainage systems to carry away the household effluents for treatment and disposal to ensure the hygiene security of its populations.

Sanitation is one of the Millennium Goals and India's successes, if any, towards attaining them has been dismal. Even in a progressive state like Maharashtra, which once in the 1990s spent Rs 600 crore with World Bank aid to build toilets in the rural areas could not achieve much; the contractors swallowed the money or the toilets such as those built were not used at all or put to other uses like storing farm implements. The attached toilets built after the 1993 earthquake for the rebuilt homes were similarly a disaster. People preferred the open.

It would help if the authorities and the media had used the Lalit Bhanot explanation of differing standards of hygiene not as a slur on the country but an opportunity to take forward the sanitation campaign. But it has been lost already in the din. If the spectacle of the CWG is impressive and the games go on, then everyone would have forgotten this issue. The toilet issue would be flushed away.

People like Bhanot have uses; we just know how to spot the opportunities and use them. Since he knows the difference between the world's best sanitation habits and those in India, we should use him. And that would absolve all those who played ducks and drakes with the CWG 2010 of all their sins of omissions and commissions. Kalmadi should persuade him to take up the job.

Kalmadi, please call both Bhanot and the Sulabh Sauchalaya's Dr Bindeshwar Pathak who has been working tirelessly to improve sanitation in the country. He needs help.

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Mahesh Vijapurkar