Seventy years of independence, our successive governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have failed to provide an average citizen with the basic amenity – toilet. This is the most upsetting reality for any sensitive human being with an iota of pride left in him for the nation.

The most abhorrent sight that we would like to erase from your memory is people relieving themselves or urinating in the open. Stroll along the pavement, travel on a train or traverse through countryside in a car or bus, you won’t miss the reality.

According to a WHO-UNICEF report Indians comprised 58 per cent of all people who defecate in the open. Hence, India carries the dubious distinction of world’s capital for open defecation.  The global figures in this context have declined from 25 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2008.

Around 638 million people do not have access to toilets in India followed by Indonesia (58m), China (50m), Ethiopia (49m), Pakistan (48m), Nigeria (33m) and Sudan (17m). 18 per cent of urban India still defecates in open while the percentage of rural India is as high as 69 per cent.

While most of us see the issue from aesthetic point of view, its hygienic and environmental implications are far reaching. Our administration is yet to wake up to the devastating consequences of this huge open defecation.

The unattended and untreated fecal matter which results in unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene is bound to take a heavy toll on lives of people. An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five die every year due to water borne diseases. It also underlines that open defecation leads to deadly diarrhea and other intestinal diseases which kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year.

Open defecation puts people at high risk for water-borne diseases as 700 000 truckloads of fecal matter not being collected every year the shit ends up contaminating groundwater used for drinking, cleaning, etc. posing a serious health hazard where collection/disposal is unreliable.

Former Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and subsequently Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked up a veritable storm with their avowed preference for lavatories to temples. Most of us won’t give credence to our politicians’ utterances as we all know that their rhetoric generally does not go beyond earning a few brawny points especially during an elections season. However, this episode points to one positive thing.  That they have finally come round to the realisation that they can no longer fool around the masses by raking up non-issues while leaving real and basic problems confronting them to fester.

Thanks to the civil society movement, no government can afford to brush issues that have a direct bearing on the public health under the carpet. Sanitation is a human crisis the nation can overlook at its own peril as we, as a nation, can swim and sink together.

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