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Penalising People When Civic Amenities are Inadequate is Unfair

Arun Kumar Das |
To enforce Swachh Bharat Mission, a parliamentary panel has suggested punishing people for littering, spitting and urinating in public, raising many questions.
open defecation free

Image Coutesy: Dawn To Earth

The recommendations of a parliamentary committee for empowering civic bodies to punish people for urinating or spitting in public have raised questions whether India is ready for such penal action when large stretches of rural or urban areas are battling with massive lack of basic amenities.

Though the Narendra Modi government's much-trumpeted Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), which aims to introduce healthy sanitation practices by making the entire country open defecation free, is a noble idea and should be welcomed, the ground reality is far from conducive to enforce punitive measures, as a significant proportion of the population is facing inadequate toilet facilities and proper drainage/sewage systems.

The Committee on Subordinate Legislation, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, Dilip Kumar Mansukhlal Gandhi, has recommended that the government bring in a comprehensive model legislation to provide legal backing to the SBM under which the municipalities can punish offenders for spitting, urinating and littering in public places.

Stressing the need for a central legislation, the committee noted that at present there is  no exclusive legislation to give SBM any kind of statutory status because sanitation is a state subject under the Constitution.

 According to data provided by the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry, as on November 16, 2017,  out of 4,041 urban local bodies, only 1,789 (44%) have declared themselves open defecation free (ODF) and a total 40.82 lakh (61%) individual households latrines out of the 66.42 lakh targeted and 2.333 lakh (46%) community and public toilets out of 5.07 lakh targeted, have been constructed.

Further, 100% door-to-door collection is present in 44,650 wards (55%) out of a total of 81,065 wards and about 23% of total waste generated is being processed.

In respect of rural areas, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has claimed that sanitation coverage increased to 67.51% as on September 7, 2017 and a total of 2,35,209 villages, 1,05,548 gram panchayats, 1,701 blocks and 192 districts has been declared ODF.

 Apart from the unfinished toilets, there are also cases of lack of water in toilets which makes the problem worse.

The committee has also recommended focusing on bringing behavioural change regarding healthy sanitation practices for which a massive awareness campaign is required.

 Expressing concern over the absence of cleanliness plans in schools, the parliamentary panel has noted that there are no proposals to implement sanitation programme at schools in collaboration with the Human Resource Development Ministry to promote improved hygiene and give teachers training for the same.

The panel is of the view that safe sanitation and cleanliness is most important and the earliest it starts the best it is.

 While there is no denying the fact that all schools should compulsorily teach good hygiene and sanitation habits to children, the fact of the matter is how many schools are running without a proper roof.

There are also cases where girls do not come to schools because of the absence of toilet facility.

Seeking measures to make children aware of the importance of hygiene and sanitation, the panel in its latest report said there should be a chapter on Swachh Bharat Mission in the syllabus of schools up to primary standard all over India in order to cultivate cleanliness habits.

Highlighting the importance of monitoring mechanism, the committee observed that if the work done during 2014-19 of SBM and efforts made for achieving the objectives of the mission are not maintained, the same will be rendered futile.

The writer is a free lance journalist based in Delhi.

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