Brig. K.G. Behl (Retd.)
President, All India Consumer Council, Uttarakhand
“Open Defecation” is the human practice of defecating outside, in the open environment. People choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, canals or other open space for defecation. They do so because either they do not have a toilet at home or due to traditional cultural practices. Even if toilets are available, behaviour change efforts may still be needed to promote the use of toilets. The practice is general where sanitation infrastructure is not available specially in slum areas.
People practicing open defecation in the world live in just seven countries. India is the country with the highest number of people practicing open defecation. Even big towns have slum areas around where it is an open practice. Unless such slum areas are removed it is not possible to stop this practice. Even in Dehradun there are number of slum colonies where there are no toilets. To say that three mobile vehicles with ten toilets each are being put up to cater for 1200 families is far from meeting the demands. Moreover it is learnt that sufficient water is not available even in those vehicles and they stink a lot. People do not allow them to park near their houses and parking such vehicles itself is a problem. Since it is to cater for a large number of people and has to be kept on move it may consume lot of expenditure and need lot of rounds for emptying at places of discharge. Moreover these cannot be used for emergent cases such as diarrhea etc. In addition there is no provision for urination in the localities. Even in normal colonies provision is not being made for constructing community toilets for even urination. No wonder people urinate in open area or at places near trees and corners.
The term ‘Open Defecation’ is about water, sanitation, and hygiene, where sufficient quantity of water has to be made available. Moreover there should be provision for light at night.
Ending open defecation is an indicator being used to measure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Extreme poverty and lack of sanitation are statistically linked. Therefore, eliminating open defecation is thought to be an important part of the effort to eliminate poverty and create proper sanitation. It is an effort in ‘Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan’ campaign so that every town becomes neat and clean.
Open defecation perpetuates the vicious cycle of disease and poverty and is widely regarded as an affront to personal dignity. It is also an hazard for women from security point of view as normally they defecate in the dark hours. This practice general followed in slum areas where there are no built up toilets and since such colonies are situated normally along the rivers, the banks of the rivers are used as open air toilets.
Sometimes back the Nagar Nigam had carried out survey where it was found that roughly 2500 houses in the town did not have built in toilets and efforts were made to help them in getting those constructed. In addition “Sulabh Shauchalya” were set up to help people to use those wherever possible specially in markets while making purchases. But it was found that poor people were finding it difficult to use as they charge five to ten rupees for use every time. And visiting those areas was not that easy, being located in crowded areas. Moreover those are not properly maintained and people find difficult to use those. Wherever those are free for use, specially urinals they stink and are difficult to use. No provision has been made for ladies. Even the areas around those complain of stink. Even the toilet in such an important place like Gandhi Park is not being properly maintained and one finds difficult to use that.
The reasons for open defecation are varied it can be a voluntary, semi-voluntary or involuntary choice. Most of the time, a lack of access to a toilet is the reason. Sufficient number of community toilets should be constructed in all colonies so that people may use while making morning walks or while in transition. It may not be sufficient to say that every house has got a toilet unless provision is made for some community toilets in different corners of the colonies.
Unless slum areas are removed from the town and settled in new colonies to be set up for them with sufficient sanitary provisions, it may not be proper to call the town ‘Open Defecation Free’.