Positive message from Minister's open urination incident

Without providing toilet facilities, how can the idea of SBM be enforced?

By Jitendra
Published: Thursday 29 June 2017

The image of Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh is going viral on social media. He was caught on camera while urinating in the open. From the images that have surfaced on social media, he seems to be urinating on the walls of a government building. According to media reports, the photo was clicked during his recent visit to Motihari, headquarters of East Champaran district, which is also his constituency.

Sporting dhoti and kurta and guarded by commandos, the minister was seen urinating on the walls. He may not have intentionally mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of achieving total sanitation by 2019, but it certainly brought the attention back to the ground reality.

The government’s coercive measures under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) are already taking toll on public. Recently in Rajasthan, activist Zafar Hussain was beaten to death when he tried to prevent municipal officials from naming and shaming of women who were engaged in open defecation. Before the incident, Zafar had submitted a memorandum to the city council to stop targeting villagers before the toilet facility is made available in every home.

In the minister’s case, naming and shaming of an individual for not using toilet was not needed because it was the nature's call, and most importantly, there was no urinal. This has a message for the agencies responsible for making Swachh Bharat Mission a success. Comparing both the incidents may not be justifiable as one holds a constitutional post and other was a common man. But both the incidents raised an important issue: unavailability of toilet facilities. Without providing facility, how can the idea of SBM be enforced?

Women and children are the worst affected due to poor sanitation. Women compromise on their dignity by choosing to defecate in the open. Besides, the children become more vulnerable to a number of health problems. In fact, poor sanitation costs India 5.2 per cent of its GDP.

As a reporter, I used to find number of defunct toilets during my visit to small towns and villages. Thus, women are forced to go out to attend to nature’s call. Lack of water is the main reason for toilets lying defunct. Under such circumstances, it is inappropriate to engage in naming and shaming.  

What has been Bihar’s progress under Swachh Bharat Mission?

The progress in construction of toilets in Radha Mohan Singh’s home district and constituency is poor. It has achieved merely 28 per cent of total target since the inception of SBM campaign. According to the Base Line Survey of 2012, Bihar is the worst performing state in sanitation table with 78 per cent households having no toilet. Out of total 21.4 million households, only 4.6 million households had toilets. But in the last three years, progress has been quite slow. Only 17, 63, 000 more households have got toilets. The total toilet coverage increased from 22 per cent to 29.65 per cent.  

This incident has opened up an opportunity for the minister to kick-start a campaign, at least to make his constituency open defecation-free, so that next time he can use urinal for relieving himself.

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