Dr. Y. P. Anand*
The concept of 'Sanitation' is a comprehensive one including effective management (collection, treatment and disposal/recovery, reuse or recycling) of human waste, solid waste (including biodegradable and non-biodegradable refuse/trash/rubbish), waste water, sewage effluents, industrial wastes, and hazardous (such as hospital, chemical, radioactive, plastic or other dangerous) wastes.
The standards of sanitation in a society are closely inter-related to the levels of hygiene and public health in it and, hence, to the attainable standards of longevity and extent of diseases, and thus to the productive levels of the society. These also determine the levels of avoidable wastages of available resources and to what extent the so-called wastes are being recovered/reused/recycled as valuable resources. Lack of sanitation, which includes lack of cleanliness and causing dirt, filth and pollution, has not only vital economic consequences but also serious social consequences.
Mahatma Gandhi had realized early in his life that the prevalent poor state of sanitation and cleanliness in India and particularly the lack of adequate toilets, in the then largely rural India, needed as much attention as was being devoted toward attainment of swaraj. He said that unless we "rid ourselves of our dirty habits and have improved latrines, swaraj can have no value for us." [CW 14:56-58] Along with the struggle for India's independence, he led a continuous struggle for sanitation, cleanliness, and efficient management of all categories of wastes throughout his public life (1893 – 30.1.1948), in South Africa and then in India. He dealt with nearly all aspects of sanitation-technical, social and economic-and its various aspects-personal, domestic and corporate.
Gandhi was martyred soon after India became independent. After independence, the issue of sanitation has received the government's attention though sporadically. Such facilities need to be further upgraded.
In this background the Prime Minister's speech on the Independence Day (15.8.2014) brought fresh hopes: "How do we celebrate 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi? - - - Mahatma Gandhi had cleanliness and sanitation closest to his heart. Whether we resolve not to leave a speck of dirt in our village, city, street, area, school, temple, hospital, and what have you, by 2019 when we celebrate 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi? This happens not just with the Government, but with public participation. That is why we have to do it together." This resolve was concretized when on 2 October, 2014, the Prime Minister launched a nationwide sanitation campaign, 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan'-'Clean India Mission'-to provide sanitation facilities to every Indian, including toilets, solid and liquid waste disposal systems, village sanitation, and safe and adequate drinking water supply by 2 October, 2019.
It is in this context that the Gandhian movement for sanitation becomes a reference point for the attainment of the Swachh Bharat targets by 2019. In the following sections in this paper, therefore, the subject of prevalent lack of sanitation and the measures necessary for making Indians and India 'Swachh', is presented under two successive phases:
Gandhi in South Africa (1893-1914)
Throughout this period, Gandhi also remained deeply involved with how to get rid of the general assertion by the white settlers-partly motivated by reluctance to give equal opportunity to the Indian settlers (traders, labour and other groups)-that Indians did not follow sanitary and hygienic practices and, hence, should be made to live in separate 'locations'. Those days epidemics, such as plague, were recurrent, which made it even more necessary that rules of sanitation and cleanliness were observed.
In his 'Guide to London' [1893-94, CW 1:84], while stressing the need for daily bath, Gandhi had quoted the proverb, "Cleanliness is next to godliness". Then, in his long 'Open Letter to Natal Legislative Assembly and Council' [1894, CW 1:170-85], he had argued that Indians would be as sanitary as Europeans there provided they received the same attention and opportunity. However, he also recounted in his Autobiography, how it was "not without a certain amount of truth - - - that the Indian was slovenly in is habits and did not keep his house and surroundings clean". To assist the authorities in Durban when plague was reported to be imminent, he had undertaken "house to house inspection" of the Indian community and met with bitter opposition. [CW 39:175-76] Similarly, he had realized in Johannesburg how the "criminal negligence of the Municipality and ignorance of the Indian settlers thus conspired to render the 'location' thoroughly insanitary." [CW 39: 230-31]
In South Africa itself Gandhi had developed a passion to destroy the twin 'evils' of 'Untouchability' and insanitation. By and by he took to scavenging himself. He discussed the subjects of sanitation and hygiene at the Indians' meetings. He had written to the 'Medical Officer, Johannesburg', to visit the Indian location as the insanitation and overcrowding there could lead to an epidemic. [1904, CW 4:130-31] Soon thereafter, plague broke out and Gandhi stressed the need for "sanitation and hygiene as part of our being". [CW 4:176] Elsewhere, he refers to many Indians in the 'Malay Location' being arrested due to their houses, compounds and latrines not being clean. [1906, CW 5:270] In all such cases, he insisted that the remedy lay "in our own hands" [CW 5:316], and that our "malignant tumour of uncleanliness" "must be opened" [CW 5:470] After an outbreak of small-pox in Johannesburg, he stressed that it was the duty of Indians there to remove all causes that might lead to its outbreak among them. [CW 11:304]
He pointed out how educated Indians tried to approach "to the scientific European standard of sanitation" while those in remote areas kept sticking to the old modes. Further, eradication of plague in India needed "an improvement in sanitary habits, morality and economic condition of the people." [CW 4:360-62; CW 4:468-69] Writing about 'Indians in Krugerdorp' [CW 5:26], he commented how we spit anywhere and-being "disinclined to cleaning lavatories ourselves"-many diseases spread through dirty lavatories. He started advising Indians to spread dry dust or ashes into the bucket after each use and to keep lavatories disinfected and dry. To safeguard against spread of plague, he asked Indians to keep dwellings and business areas perfectly clean and allow as much "light and air" as possible. He wanted every educated Indian to be "a missionary in hygiene and sanitation". [CW 5:100-1]
He regretted that in Natal, "our shops - - look like hovels. All this must change." [CW 6:293] He wanted Indian in South Africa to overcome the Whites' prejudices against them in all areas of personal, home and environmental cleanliness. [CW 6:308-9] While in his first 'ashram', Phoenix Settlement, he wanted "sufficient dust - - spread over night-soil" and "all the surrounding area clean" [CW 9:378], in his next 'ashram', Tolstoy Farm, all sanitation work was managed by the inmates. One could see no refuse or dirt anywhere, all rubbish was buried in trenches , all wastewater was used to water trees, leftover food and vegetable refuse were reused as manure, and a pit was made for depositing night-soil, fully covered with earth and converted into manure. There, "leaving night-soil, cleaning the nose or spitting on the road is a sin against God as well as humanity." [CW 29:192-93]
In South Africa, he wrote a booklet, 'General Knowledge About Health' . He wrote that latrines, dirty open spaces and narrow lanes and urinals were the main sources of defilement of air. In absence of modern water closets, if night-soil is covered with earth or ashes, it will stop flies and insects from spreading diseases. We should clean the lavatories ourselves. When the pail becomes full, its contents should be put into a 1-2 feet deep pit covered with earth. In case of open defecation, a pit should be dug to defecate and faeces covered with the dug earth. In the absence of a place for urinating, we should go far from the living area and sprinkle the used spot with earth. We should not throw food, refuse, etc. all over, but bury the garbage near the surface where it becomes manure in due course. [CW 11:458-9]
During this period, he had also written about poor sanitation in 'Slaughter-houses in the Cape Colony' [CW 4:353-4], about the occurrence of plague in Sydney [CW 5:245], and about the insanitary practices of Indian 'Deck Passengers'-living slovenly, spitting wherever and having foul latrines; inadequate provisions were no excuse for uncleanliness. [CW 11:426-27]
During this period he had visited India twice. On his first visit  it was feared in Rajkot that the plague epidemic in Bombay may spread there also. He offered his services to the Sanitation Department and laid special stress on cleanliness of latrines. He found, while the poor welcomed suggestions for better sanitation, the upper class's latrines were less clean and they would not take any suggestions. He suggested use of a bucket for excreta and for urine and latrines with better light and air. He also inspected the untouchables' latrines and found these much cleaner. [CW 39:139-40] During his second visit [1901-2], he attended the Congress session in Calcutta, and there found "no limit to insanitation". The few latrines were stinking. As the volunteers refused to act, he himself cleaned the latrine. Some delegates even used the verandah for defecation and again he took up its cleaning. Then during his train journey in third class from Calcutta to Rajkot he found the compartments dirty and closet arrangements "as bad, today as they were then". At Benares, he went to the Kashi Vishvanath temple and was deeply pained to see the "narrow and slippery lane", "swarming flies", "a stinking mass of rotten flowers", the floor "serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt", and the surroundings too dirty. [CW 39:181-82]
After return to India, Gandhi's interest in the numerous aspects related to the state of insanitation and lack of hygiene then prevalent in India progressively grew in content and scope. During this early period, he commented on the general state of sanitation in India, on the need for education in sanitation and prevention of diseases, and on the related issue of 'untouchability'. Just after return, his stay, along with his Phoenix group, at Shantiniketan had "taught us that the scavenger's work would be our special function in India." Soon thereafter at the Hardwar Kumbh Mela, the group had offered to cover up excreta with earth and to see to its disposal. [CW 39:308-9]
He again visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple and during his speech at Benares Hindu University [6.2.1916, CW 13:212-13], the dirt and uncleanliness at the temple made him say, "Is not this great temple a reflection of our own character?" He found the city itself "a stinking den" and that in majority of our holy places the insanitary state similar to that at Kashi Vishwanath temple prevailed. [CW 13:237-39] While attending the Gurukul anniversary, he found the sanitation arrangements at the Hardwar fair very deficient. He asked the Gurukul boys to be taught the laws of hygiene and sanitation so that they could function as sanitary inspectors at the annual fairs. [CW 13:264] He deplored the limitless insanitation at the holy place of Dakor. [CW 16:275-76] He saw people defecating on the river banks, including those of the holy Ganges, and using the same water for bathing and drinking. [CW 17:56-57]
He noticed that Railway authorities' negligence and passengers' dirty habits-spitting all over, dirtying surroundings with leftovers, tobacco and betel leaves, filth on carriage floors---were responsible for the insanitary conditions on railway stations and trains. He found similar situation among deck passengers during his journey from Calcutta to Rangoon. [CW 39: 308-9; CW 13:213; CW 14:45-6]
He said at the Gujarat Political Conference [CW 14:56-8] that our houses, streets and roads were unclean and dilapidated, which allowed the epidemics to find a home. He even said, if we could "banish the plague from India", "we shall have increased our fitness for swaraj". Noticing the street at Nizamabad being full of refuse and with a drain at its centre, he had observed, "Swaraj ought to begin with our streets." [CW 16:325-26] His suggestions for preventing incidence of plague included having clean water and air, perfectly clean houses, roads and lanes, and explicitly laid down how to deal with excreta during open defecation and excreta and urine collected in latrines, and with rubbish. [CW 14:400-1]
His 'Draft Model Rules for Provincial Congress Committees' made each panchayat responsible for the "hygiene and sanitation therein". [CW 19:217] And, for the Congress Session in 1921, he insisted for perfect sanitation, so as to be "an object lesson in cleanliness". [CW 21:523] At the opening of the Tibbi College in Delhi in 1921, he observed: "The science of sanitation is infinitely more ennobling, though more difficult of execution, than the science of healing." [CW 19:357]
As most Indians then lived in villages, he had started paying special attention to 'village sanitation'. During the Champaran satyagraha , he found the villages insanitary with filthy lanes, stink around wells and skin diseases being common. He took up the sanitation work on priority, with a set of volunteers, tried to make one village ideally clean, swept the roads and courtyards, cleaned out wells and ponds and induced the villagers towards sanitation. He saw how extreme poverty too led to personal insanitation-women could not take bath as they had only one sari. [CW 39:334-36] He saw the filth in the villages as a sign of both ignorance and sloth. He advised open defecation away from habitation, in a hole dug in the ground and covered with the dug earth for both cleanliness and conversion of night-soil into manure. But he wanted each house to have a latrine. The house latrines should use buckets to collect excreta and laid down how to convert both excreta and urine into manure. He prohibited spitting on the streets and instructed how to convert refuse into manure. [CW 16:271-73]
He also started questioning why we regarded those doing the most useful service of scavenging as 'untouchables', a task which we should do ourselves. [CW 19:570]
Gandhian movement for sanitation had taken a much more active form by the time he came out of the jail in 1924. He even said, "Outward filth is only a sign of the uncleanliness in our minds." [CW 43:410] His incessant drive during this period may be studied under three broad categories: a) sanitation as a system and a movement (e.g., its role in freedom movement, Indians and sanitation, lessons from the West); b) sanitation in specific situations (e.g. in cities, in villages, on Railways, in Gandhian ashrams and Congress sessions); and c) the associated issue of 'untouchability' and its 'removal'. His observations and actions during this period are briefly given below for each category.
Sanitation as a system and a movement:
He said that agents like mosquitoes, flies and fleas spread diseases and we ourselves were responsible for the squalor of Bombay. He wanted all to realize "the close connection between sweeping out dirt and swaraj." [CW 23:335-36] He said, it was "absurd to attribute these epidemics to God". Being used to village life where "the need for corporate sanitation is not much felt", one thing we must learn "from the West is the science of municipal sanitation". Of course, we must "modify western methods of sanitation to suit our requirements". He himself owed to Dr. Poore his knowledge of the cheapest and most effective method of disposal of human excreta by converting it into "precious manure". Like the English, he defined dirt as "matter displaced". [CW 25:449, 460-61] He called himself a scavenger and deplored "a tendency in our public life to disregard the value of municipal service." [CW 26:305]
He asked the labourers at Madras to give up insanitation, filth and living in dirty houses without sunshine and air. [CW 26:380-1] A "lavatory must be as clean as a drawing room." Open defecation may be done only in a secluded spot in a hole dug in the ground and a commode be used in the latrines. He had "learnt this from the West." [CW 27: 116-17, 153-54] He claimed to have "become a sanitary inspector" and had experimented with converting night-soil into manure at Phoenix Settlement (South Africa) and had continued this system in the Sabarmati Ashram. He said that to fight against "old prejudices and old habits", sustained education and legislation were essential. [CW 27:152-53, CW 28:175-76]
Writing under the title 'Our insanitation', he said that incidence of several diseases could be directly traced to insanitation and, "Swaraj can be had only by brave and clean people."--"A clean body cannot reside in an unclean city."-"Cleanliness is next to godliness." He wanted the sanitary associations to take up "the broom, the shovel and the bucket" to clean the mess. [CW 28:461-62] By dirtying our surroundings we violate the teaching of the Gita: to see ourselves in others. Dirt is matter displaced, e.g. human excreta can be transformed into "golden manure" and widened and clean roads in a city would yield "an economic gain" through improved health, life-spans and output. [CW 28:466-68] He even said, where there is "filth and squalor and misery there can be no music". [CW 30:259]
After he saw a woman filling her pot from a pond with a stench at Mayavaram he wrote, "The first condition of any municipal life is decent sanitation and an unfailing supply of pure drinking water." He recalled how in his birth place, an English administrator had removed the "Terribly impure dung-heaps" from the streets in a single day. [CW 34:527-29] He observed that our cleanliness was largely limited to daily bath and keeping our homes clean "at the expense of our neighbours." So, our villages are dung-heaps, our streets are not walkable, and our rivers are defiled. While crossing the Krishna river he saw hundreds defecating close to the bank but also bathing and taking drinking water from the same stream. He insisted that not converting night-soil into manure was "an economic waste" and that "conservation of national sanitation is swaraj work". This reform in sanitation was ultimately "a source of wealth". [CW 40:283-84, CW 41:140] About Hardwar, he describes how "thoughtless ignorant" people defiled even sacred rivers, and "violate religion, science and laws of sanitation". [CW 42:76-77] He explained how the latrine and the kitchen were "aspects of the same task" and instructed in detail how to make two pits and use these alternately for conversion of the night-soil from lavatories into manure. [CW 42:103-4]
Sanitation in Specific Situations (Cities, Villages, Railways, Ashrams and Congress sessions):
He referred to the two dirty slums in Trivandrum, in Trichnopoly nuisance being committed on the Cauvery banks, whose water was used for drinking, in Madras lanes being used as latrines, in Bengal same tiny lakes being used for bathing, washing and drinking by cattle and people, in Punjab and Sind dirtying of terraces and roofs, in down south dirtying of the streets, and in Mandvi defecation on its streets. He wanted the municipalities to have "a genuine spirit of service and self-sacrifice" for "keeping the city clean and free from disease". To live in cities, we "shall have to get rid of insanitation". [CW 25:40-1, CW 26:305, CW 28: 139-40, 346-47, 400-2, 424-25, 471-72, CW 38:429-30]
He observed that, "Towns were of considerable importance to the development of a country" and we should learn from the west in respect of municipal administration: Glasgow and Birmingham were earlier dirtier than our Gaya but were today places worthy of emulation. Municipalities in holy cities should lead in ensuring sanitation of towns and rivers. [CW 32:563-64, CW 33:43-44, CW 34:178] In speeches at Devangere, Kumbakonam, Trichnopoly, Amravatipur, Karaikudi, Virudhunagar and Tinnevelly, he stressed on the latrines being kept clean, "every municipal councilor – [being] a trustee and custodian of public health", it being a sacrilege to dirty mother earth and holy rivers in Srirangam and Trichnopoly, absence of corporate cleanliness in Chettinad, sanitation and clean water supply cost not much but give a big return, healthy mind needs a healthy body and health and hygiene required absolutely clean closets and pure supply of water, air and milk. [CW 34:336, 535-36, CW 35:12-13, 24-25, 36, 71-72, 95-96]
He stressed the role of the municipalities in eliminating insanitation even in his addresses at Colombo and Rangoon. [CW 35:238-39, CW 40:105] He visited Dr. S. Higginbotham's experimental farm at Allahabad and studied various processes such as how sewage was buried in shallow pits, cattle shed's liquid manure was taken to a farm and proper treatment for skinning the dead cattle. [CW 42:216-18]
Gandhi referred to the visit by Lionel Curtis in 1918 and his saying that Indian villages were dirty, as if built on the dung-heaps. There was open defecation everywhere, heaps of garbage, dirty pathways, using same ponds for bathing, cleaning after defecation and for drinking water, and villagers betraying ignorance of even rudimentary sanitation. Excreta disposal was "a question both of cleanliness and economics." Further, organic garbage should be composted and inorganic put in pot-holes. A village worker must know the laws of sanitation and be able to educate the villagers in it. Village ponds should be enclosed and separate places provided for the cattle and for bathing and washing clothes and utensils. Wells should be periodically cleaned up. Our dirtying of rivers must stop. [CW 33:76, CW 33:151-52, CW 34:267, CW 41:295-96, 445-47, CW 42:390-91] He also talked about a lady volunteer having started to sweep a filthy village--"she has brought swaraj near to us". [CW 43:157]
He appreciated how the volunteers had managed sanitation at the Belgaum and Kanpur Congress sessions, with no aversion to working as bhangis themselves. He also explained how in the Satyagraha Ashram, all sanitation work was done by the inmates themselves, and night-soil was buried in trenches and covered with earth for being converted as manure and how roads and paths were kept clean. He also worked for making goshalas into model dairies and model tanneries. [CW 26:272, CW 36:402, CW 36:449, CW 33:198] He got leaflets printed advising passengers in third class railway coaches not to throw rubbish. He would also carry a broom to sweep the thrown dirt and paper to clean the spittoon. He considered railway authorities' indifference and passengers' insanitary habits as being responsible for dirty compartments and stations. [CW 24:129-30, CW 28:455, CW 31:532-33, CW 35:71-72]
The Associated issue of 'Untouchability' and its 'Removal':
He considered it radically unjust to have made scavenging a separate class's duty with the lowest social status, calling them 'untouchables' and making them work and live in filth and poverty. Just as our mothers become venerable when they clean our filth, why should not the bhangis too be regarded in the same way. Hence, as a part of his drive for sanitation, he started a national movement for the 'removal of untouchability', according equal social status to the 'untouchables' and improving their living and working conditions, and insisting that everyone should be one's own scavenger. As he said, "Have I not cleaned lavatories?" [CW 26:399, CW 28:411, CW 35:95-96, CW 40:238, CW 4276-77, CW 44:150]
In this phase, Gandhi led an all-India movement for 'Removal of Untouchability' and instituted an 18-point 'Constructive Programme' which included apart from 'Removal of Untouchability, 'Village Sanitation' as well as 'Education in Health and Hygiene'. Gandhi even went on 'fast unto death' for recognition of 'untouchables' as equal part of the Hindu society and then set up Harijan Sevak Sangh and undertook an all India tour for 'Removal of Untouchability'. Hence, during this phase, his work about sanitation was largely related to providing social equality to the bhangis, and the subject of 'Village Sanitation', while he continued to push his systemic programme of sanitation in all spheres of Indian life.
Sanitation and the so-called 'untouchables':
He observed that treating sanitary workers as 'untouchables' had led to the work of sanitation being grossly neglected as 'unclean', to the unscientific and unhygienic state of sanitation in India and to their own living places being unclean beyond description. [CW 51:407-8, 435-36, CW 52:47-48, CW 53:268]
In the first issue of Harijan (11.2.1933), Gandhi had published S. Datta's poem, 'Scavenger', sent by Gurudev Tagore, which said: "You help us, like a mother her child, into freshness, and uphold truth, that disgust is never for man." [CW 53:268] Had the higher castes done the scavenging themselves, some of the methods the bhangis submitted to, would have been left us long ago. Gandhi wanted the suggested reforms such as that of using trolleys to carry night-soil in place of taking it in baskets on head to be adopted by every municipality. [CW 54:109-10] He proposed three reforms in the prevalent system of scavenging: special dress for the bhangis during work, and bath after work, improved latrines and use of earth to cover excreta, and stopping of carrying the filth on head. [CW 54:124-25] He wanted Allahabad, Delhi and Madras Municipalities to be forced to house the bhangis in a decent area. He referred to the terrible contrast between the palaces of New Delhi and the Harijan bastis. [CW 54:486-88, CW 56:18, 328, 356-57] He found the Harijans in Ahmedabad living in worst slums and appealed to the mill-owners and the Municipality to make these conducive to health. [CW 58:125-26]
He considered the bhangi to be probably the most useful member of the society. During Faizpur Congress session, he asked 'volunteer bhangis' to reduce the work to a science and to prepare treatises on sanitation. A bhangi should "no more mean doer of a dirty job but a purifier, a disinfector, a preventer of disease and epidemics". [CW 64:200] He could get Bombay Corporation to resolve to provide uniforms and bathrooms and washing places for their sweepers and drain cleaners. [CW 70:125-26]
Gandhi defined an 'Ideal Bhangi' as having a thorough knowledge of the principles of sanitation, of the right kind of latrine and the process of converting night-soil and urine into manure. The educated class must provide him due dignity, by first mastering the science of sanitation and then educating the bhangi in the same so as to redeem him and the society from "its terrible insanitation". India can be independent only when the bhangi gets the same respect as a Brahmin. At Haripura Congress session , he said that a sanitary volunteer's work was not inferior to that of Rashtapati Bose or Jawaharlal Nehru. Our mothers did the same work when we were babies. A sanitary volunteer's work was even nobler than that of a mother. [CW 64:86-88, 105, 156-57, 225-26, CW 66:362-64]
He identified the 'triple malady' of Indian villages which had to be tackled: i) want of corporate sanitation, ii) deficient diet, and iii) inertia. Item i) required improvement of sanitary conditions and of unclean habits through education and example. He pointed out how Mirabehn was working on sanitation in Segaon but its villagers somehow did not appreciate modern sanitary methods. Educating villagers in sanitation work and healthy diet was the "only real medical service." [CW 62:379, CW63:162] Health and economy were interlinked. Hence, through his All India Village Industries Association he wanted each agent to attend to sanitation in his area. [CW 60:12, 384-85]
He tried to introduce the hygienic method of Dr. Poore, who had written books on village sanitation. It turned human excreta into manure, thus adding to national health and wealth. He suggests receiving excreta in buckets, covered by earth after each use, and the buckets being emptied in pits 12 to 18 inches deep and covering the pits with the dug earth. Within a fortnight, the excreta is converted by germs in the top soil into manure. Gandhi had followed this method in the Ashram for 17 years, including that for the kitchen waste. [CW 48:198, CW 54:317-18] To prevent incidence of malaria in Delhi villages, he wanted the students to attend to the stagnant pools, the drainage, the wells and tanks, and the streets and getting rid of filth and dirt, and follow Poore's 'Rural Hygiene' to make Wazirabad a model village. [CW 60:119-20, 60:190-92]
He advised villagers near Wardha to replace open defecation with 6 inches wide and 1 foot deep trenches and cover the excreta with earth to convert it into manure. [CW 60:299-300] He told in an 'Interview', if he could get human waste converted to manure by Poore's simplest and most effective method it could save Rs.2/head/year, i.e. Rs. 60 crore/year, which could be used for all-round improvement of the 7 lakh villages. [CW 60:384-85, 60:425] He wrote how Sardar Patel was doing 'Silent Work' in plague ridden Borsad, by cleaning the infected villages, opening out the dark houses to sun and air, disinfecting insanitary places, and distributing leaflets about preventive measures. [CW 60: 420-21] He believed "in removing dirt to its proper place, where it ceases to be dirt." He told how he had used the night-soil converted into manure for crops for 30 years "with the greatest benefit". [CW 61:46, 49-51]
He said that we have to change the village from dung-heap into "a smiling garden". His ideal village will "lend itself to perfect sanitation - - cottages with sufficient light and ventilation - - lanes and streets will be free of all avoidable dust." The night-soil will be turned into manure. "In a well-ordered society the citizens know and observe the laws of health and hygiene". [CW 64:71-72, 217-18, CW 75:153, 156]
Observations regarding Systemic Programme of Sanitation:
He said that every spot on earth was sacred as God existed everywhere. Hence, our bodies, homes, lavatories and environment should be clean, both internally and externally. [CW 49:413-14] Everyone in the Ashram did the sanitary service in turn and night-soil was converted into manure on Poore's lines. [CW 50:22, 229] He wanted the beneficial scientific methods being evolved in the West to be suitably adopted. [CW 56:112] He wrote to Amrit Kaur that the plague in Khan Khana was a punishment for the "flagrant breach of fundamentals of sanitation and hygiene", and burning of refuse was "like burning a currency note". [CW 60:358, 424] He wanted sanitary arrangements at Gandhi Seva Sangh meetings to be perfect. [CW 62:93, CW 69:236-37] Judging the "work and worth" of the Corporation of Calcutta not by its palaces but by the "condition of its slums" he said that it "had neglected its duties". [CW 62:102]
During this period, India was on the door-step to Independence. While Gandhi was deeply involved in the political processes and efforts to mitigate communal violence, he also continued to propagate his drive and efforts for sanitation, cleanliness and hygiene. In this period, while most of his references dealt with the subject in broad terms including specific references to the subject of composting the wastes and to sanitation in refugee camps, he also kept referring to the sad plight of scavengers and to village sanitation.
Systemic Programme of Sanitation:
He would even amend the saying "cleanliness is next to godliness" to "cleanliness is godliness". He also wrote, "When there is both inner and outer cleanliness, it approaches godliness." To him, "Sanitation comes first, because it covers most other things." [CW 82:75, 450, CW84:109] He reported about gross insanitation in the Talimi Sangh Hostel, such as filth, puddles of water where mosquitoes would breed, dirty entrance to the dormitory, dirty cloths under the mattress, dirty mats, poor state of the floor used for sleeping and wastage of water. [CW 82:138-39] At Calcutta, he spoke about the streets being made dirty with throw-ways and how if every citizen observed the rules of cleanliness, the face of Calcutta would change. [CW 82:374] He wanted railway cars and stations to be used for educating the public in sanitation and cleanliness. For women, he wanted the first place to be given to knowledge of sanitation and hygiene. [CW 83:102-3, 332]
He said, "Anyone who fouls the air by spitting about carelessly, throwing refuse or rubbish or otherwise dirtying the ground, sins against man and nature. Man's body is the temple of God." [CW 83:316] Earth was God's creation and must not be soiled. "To put anything out of place was equivalent to soiling the earth." [CW 84:56, 62] At prayer meetings, he continued to assert the need for clean air, water and earth, houses and surroundings and lamented the pollution of the banks of the Ganges at Hardwar and the small tanks being no cleaner than gutters. [CW 84:38, 43] Lavatories should be as clean as a bedroom or a library. "All life is one." Hence, if we clean our homes and neglect the surroundings, or the areas where the poor live, we will pay the price in the form of diseases and the like. [CW 84:260-1]
In Bombay, he drew attention to the dirt and filth, choked drainpipes, leaking overhead drains, water scarcity and filthy latrines, open refuse bins and its poor management, and overcrowding in the chawls. [CW 84:417-18, 425] At Panchgani, which had the plague only a year before, he found the insanitation, the filth and the stench of public latrines and urinals awful. He said that, "Scavenging was a fine art". He told people how he cleaned his own privy and it was spotlessly clean. He wanted people to be their own bhangis and relieve the oppressed bhangis. He found the conditions at Mahableshwar similar. [CW 85:38-40, 72, 99-100] He wrote, "The first service is latrine cleaning." [CW 84:442-43, CW 85:505]
At Wardha, he said, while sanitation was a part of the training in government schools and colleges, none was taught how to clean the roads and lavatories. [CW 85:185-6, 199] He welcomed the 'flush' system if water supply was ample and the poor too could have it. [CW 85:239-40] At Delhi, he was pained to see the Viceroy's House being kept so clean and the living quarters of menials and sweepers working there being extremely dirty. He wanted "our Ministers' to have the servants' lodgings as clean as their own. [CW 85:255] He advocated use of working costumes and of authorized receptacles, brooms, etc. by scavengers and suitable training for the sanitary inspectors. [CW 85:401]
In Noakhali, he walked from village to village to bring about communal harmony. One day [19.1.1946], while walking on a narrow path, he found excreta deliberately put there. He himself cleaned it with dry leaves. He reminisced that in Kathiawad too people had this dirty habit and said that one must clean it oneself "to realize the joy of it". [Mahatma Gandhi, vol. IX, bk.2, by Pyarelal, p.152-53] Seeing dirt and insanitation wherever he went-streets, lanes, tanks-he told the Noakhali residents that chronic breach of laws of sanitation was responsible for both the diseases and their poverty. [CW 86:439, CW 87:4]
After India became independent, he said at Calcutta that he could not be satisfied till it had become known for sanitation. [CW 89:84] Back at Delhi, he said that its Municipality was never known for cleanliness. [CW 89:268-69] He told Lt. Gen. K.M. Cariappa that he had always admired the importance given by the army to sanitation and hygiene and would tell people to emulate the army. [CW 90:167]
He was deeply concerned about the insanitary conditions in the refugee camps which had come up as a result of the partition riots. On learning that it was hardly possible to supply refugee camps with bhangis, he asked the refugees to look after their own sanitation. He asked the authorities to provide shovels and pick-ups to the inmates and proper supervision for this task. In his 'Broadcast to Refugees at Kurukshetra Camp' [12.11.1947], he said, "You must take the sanitation of the place in your hands." He asked them to help the doctors and officials in keeping the camp clean. He asked the refugees in India and Pakistan to be their own scavengers, doing "what every human being can do". [CW 89:172, 183-85, 279-80, 331-32, CW 90:16-17, 288-89]
After independence, he strongly asserted the need to recycle all organic waste by composting it into manure. He referred to the All India Compost Conference, convened by Mirabehn at New Delhi, which had recommended ways to make good manure by mixing dung and human faeces with the farmyard plant wastes. It also stressed the need of utilizing town sewage, sullage and sludge, by-products of slaughterhouses and other trade wastes for agriculture, and for composting of materials like water hyacinth, cane-trash, press-mud, and forest leaves. He said that the wastes, judiciously composted, return to the soil as golden manure, saving wealth, raising farm yields and keeping the surroundings clean. He quoted from Mirabehn's leaflet: "Compost is matter well-planned, whereas rubbish and excreta, solid and liquid, are matter misplaced when - - allowed to lie anyhow - - a criminal waste depriving mother earth of her precious food." It was "goldlike manure made from a proper mixture of such matter as cow-dung, faeces, droppings of birds and animals, grass, chaff, refuse, urine, etc." It could be produced in every village. [CW 90:264, 267, 269-70, 270-71, 306-7, 313, 314, 400]
Sanitation and the Campaign for 'Removal of Untouchability':
Taking 'Untouchability' to be "the blackest spot on Hinduism", he now said that mere scavenging by him was not enough and he must also live among Harijans and ensure that they did not have to live in squalor and filth. He wanted all towns people to practice the art of sanitation and look to the education and proper living of scavengers and ensure equitable wages and social justice for them. When he found living quarters of bhangis in Simla in a deplorable state, he asked the municipality and the public to rectify this evil. [CW 83: 350-51, 360, CW 84:8-9, 76, 148] When asked what would he do if made a dictator of India for a day, he said he would clean the hovels of the Harijans in the Viceroy's House. [CW 84:227, 336, 413-14]
He wanted village workers to have a thorough knowledge of sanitation and compost making and to persuade the villagers to remove any urinals and latrines located near the wells. [CW 78:163] In his 'ideal village' there would be no filth and darkness, and no plague, cholera or small-pox. [CW 81:320] At Kanchangaon, when told that the villagers were co-operating in keeping the village clean, he hoped that it would become an 'ideal village'. [CW 84:180] While in Noakhali, he found every corner of a village dirty, and exhorted the villagers to make their village spotlessly clean and beautiful. [CW 87:79-80] He told the villagers to compost their wastes and thus raise their foodgrain production, and also to keep the village free of dirt and foul smells by following the rules of sanitation. [CW 87:240, 90:306-7]
Underlying Mahatma Gandhi's persistent concern for sanitation, cleanliness and hygiene was his approach to generation and management of all types of 'waste'. He defined 'waste' as a resource out of place and would not accept avoidable wastage of any resource-even a scrap of paper, a drop of water, a single grain, or a pinch of salt. His approach may be considered under two parts, as indicated in the typical examples given below:
Minimization of Waste Generation:
In 1919 itself, he suggested 'Improvement in Method of Cremation' by having the crematorium constructed scientifically so that the body could be reduced to ashes in a furnace. He was also distressed to see 'masses of flowers' being wasted in his welcome, and started asking for garlands instead to be made of handspun yarn. [CW 16:218-19, 329] He was very critical of the extravagant indulgence in feasts and clothes in Hindu marriages, as these led to insanitation and wasteful use of social resources. [CW 39:12] He advised J.C. Kumarappa to take up "the whole subject of economic waste" occurring through preventable diseases, wrong feeding, criminal waste of human excreta, etc. [CW 47:373-74] He got a totally worn out blanket renewed by being sewn on to a thick khadi piece, and even wore it to the Royal palace in London in 1931. [CW 50:157] He insisted on every article in the Ashram, including water and salt, being used without any wastage and anyone wanting to miss a meal to inform in advance to avoid any food being wasted. He would not allow wasteful use of any commodity in his meetings. [CW 71: 164, 240, 309] He saw wastage of food through food left uneaten, a practice common among the rich and also in feasts and ceremonies, as a sign of "bad breeding" and wanted an educational campaign to be organized against it. He was very critical of the "triple waste"-stored food material, skimmed milk, and condensed milk becoming unfit for use. [CW 83:153, 220, 313, 365]
Most of the Produced Waste can be Converted into Valuable Resources:
This aspect has already been covered under earlier sections, and here only some typical examples are given. He thanked a correspondent for the booklet on the Indore process of 'composting' and said that he would go to see the process at work. He also studied the leaflets of the Institute of Plant Industry, and gave notes from these including those for preparing compost from farm wastes and also, thus, handling cow-dung and night-soil. While he considered Dr. Poore's superficial burial method as more scientific and cost-effective, irrespective of the method adopted, he wanted all refuse to be buried to obtain manure so as to promote villagers' health and economic condition. He wrote in 1935 that vide GI Fowler in Wealth and Waste, recycled disposal of human waste was worth Rs. 60 crores/year for the 30 crore Indians, in addition to removing insanitation. Similarly, he wrote how a urinal made on a heap of mud made it into valuable manure. [CW 60: 269-70, 302-3, 348, 353,419; CW 61:49-51, 338] He wrote that in every village, animal bones could be converted into manure (explained in the Harijan issues dated 30.11.1934 & 14.12.1934) by only slight roasting (which leads to a loss of only little nitrogen but of no phosphorous) and then grinding into powder. Conversion of the flesh of the carcass was more difficult but still its every part, including blood, could be utilized. [CW 61:352, 445-46] He told the 'Members of Talimi Sangh' that all water from bathing and ablutions or from kitchen should be used for the vegetable beds, not a drop being wasted. Similarly, all other wastes should be reused. [CW 83:143]
The term 'sanitation' today means safe, hygienic, effective and economical management--collection, storage, treatment and disposal, including recovery, reuse and recycling--of all categories of 'wastes' (rural, urban, and other), primarily including human wastes, solid wastes, wastewaters, sewage effluents, industrial wastes, and 'hazardous' wastes; keeping in view that 'a waste is a resource out of place'.
On 28.7.2010, the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council recognized a human right to safe, accessible and affordable water and sanitation. On 30.9.2010, the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution on 'The Human right to safe drinking water and sanitation'. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) too have helped generate political commitment, as their target on access to water and sanitation aims for a 50% reduction in the lack of access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities by 2015. [Ch. 6]
A Review of the Post-Independence Efforts by the Government for Sanitation
Sanitation, both personal and corporate is a joint responsibility of the individuals, communities and the state. In India, there are multiple institutional systems, including departments and municipal and medical systems, meant to look after the 'sanitation'. By the time India became independent, mortality from epidemics (e.g. plague) had fallen sharply but diseases like fevers and gastro-enteric infections still took a heavy toll of people's health. The First Five Year Plan had noted that only 3% Indians then had toilets and most of the population lacked basic water supply, drainage and waste disposal services. [Ch.3]
After independence, Central government set up a number of committees/ commissions such as Barve Committee (1949), Backward Classes Commission (1955), Malkani Committees (1957, &, 1966), Pandya Committee (1968-69). Some states too set up similar committees. However, all these had the limited purpose of improving living and working condition of scavengers. While first three decades also saw launching of several national disease control programs, the first National Health Policy came only in 1983 and public health was sub-optimal . . . . [Ch. 3, 14]
The Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) initiated by Government of India in 1986 interpreted sanitation as covering construction of household toilets, and focused on a single model (double-pit pour-flush) through hardware subsidies. Its effect remained very limited. Government of India then launched its 'Total Sanitation Campaign' (TSC) in 1999 aiming at universal rural sanitation (access to toilets) by 2012, the responsibility resting with the Panchayat Raj Institutions and the state and central governments acting as facilitators. It covered also health education, sanitary facilities in schools and anganwadis and use of appropriate technology for sustainable community-managed systems focused on solid and liquid wastes. Then, 'Niramal Gram Puraskar' (NGP) scheme was started in 2003 in order to push the TSC. According to the Government report, 'A Decade of TSC: Rapid Assessment of Processes and Outcomes' (vol.1), the sanitation coverage had grown (from 2001 to 2011) from 21% to over 65% and over 22,000 Gram Panchayats had won NGP for total sanitation. It does accept that preventing open defecation remained the biggest challenge. TSC has been one of the flagship programmes of the government. Its annual budget had grown from Rs.202 crores in 2003-4 to Rs.1500 crores in 2011-12. [Ch. 3, 4]
Government of India had launched the National Rural Health Mission in 2005. It converges sanitation and hygiene activities, household toilets and school sanitation programs. Under it, Village Health and Sanitation Committee should be formed in all the 6.38 lakh villages, guided by the District Health Missions. It also incentivizes Accredited Social Health Activists to promote household toilets. [Ch. 3]
By 2011sanitation coverage had reached over 50% over India (32.7% rural and 87.4% urban). Though the government provides financial incentives to make individual household toilets, toilets had not been yet accepted as a universal necessity and there are still problems of socio-economic exclusion and obvious neglect of the needs of the aged and infirm, women and children, and those living in remote or difficult areas. Rural sanitation coverage was only 1% at the start of 1980s. After the launch of CRSP in 1986, it reached 4% by 1998 and 32.7% by 2011. [Ch. 2]
As per 2011 census, data on availability of toilets in India is given below:
|No. of householdsin India (millions)||167.83||78.87||246.69|
|Households with latrinefacility within the premises||30.7%||81.4%||46.9%|
|Householdswithout latrine facility within the premises||69.3%||18.6%||53.1%|
|Households usingpublic toilets||1.9%||6.0%||3.2%|
|Householdsresorting to open defecation||67.3%||12.6%||49.8%|
There were also wide regional disparities, e.g. 78% of total households in Jharkhand and Orissa, 77% in Bihar, 75% in Chhatisgarh and 71% in Madhya Pradesh were without toilet facility as against only 5% in Kerala, 8% in Mizoram and 11% in NCT, Delhi and in Manipur. [Ch. 2, 6]
For rural sanitation, Government of India's Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation acts as the nodal agency for overall policy, funding and co-ordination, while the states are vested with the responsibility of programme implementation. In most states, the Rural Development or the Public Health Engineering department is made responsible for managing the rural sanitation programme called Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA)-to transform India into 'Nirmal Bharat' by people-centred strategies with emphasis on awareness creation or sanitation facilities in houses, institutions and schools.
Under Government of India's target of universal coverage of rural 'sanitation' by 2022, 50% of Gram Panchayats should attain Nirmal Gram status by the 12th Plan end, i.e. 2017. Towards this, incentives have been increased in amount and extended to many uncovered groups. Also, under a conjoint approach, importance has also been given to providing piped water supply to households. A National Drinking Water and Sanitation Council has been set up. Total fund allocation for rural sanitation has jumped in the 12th Plan to Rs. 37,259 crores. A phased implementation approach has been adopted wherein Nirmal Gram panchayats progressively lead to sanitized 'blocks', then sanitized districts and, finally sanitized states. Nirmal Gram panchayats will have a holistic and sustainable sanitation with full toilet coverage, water supply, and waste disposal systems including drainage. It is also proposed to make sanitation a part of the school studies, and to launch massive training campaigns with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission for enhancing the skills to achieve the 2022 target. [Ch. 2]
National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP) was launched late in 2008 with 100% sanitation as the goal for the 11th Plan. At the start of NUSP, 7.87% urban households defecated in the open, 8.13% used community toilets and 19.49% shared toilets, 18.5% had no access to drainage and 39.8% were linked to open drains. The NUSP required all states to develop State Sanitation Strategies and cities to have City Sanitation Plans, to make urban India totally sanitized, healthy and livable. According to 2011 census, in urban India 81.4% households had latrines within premises (72.6% with water closet [32.7% with piped water system & 38.2% with pit latrines], 7.15% with pit latrines, 1.7% others), 6% shared public latrines and 12.6% still defecated in open. [Ch. 3, 26]
Article 17 of the Indian Constitution had abolished the practice of 'untouchability'. Nevertheless, the caste groups involved in scavenging, have continued to be linked to the polluting work, such as, sweeping, cleaning toilets and carrying night-soil, and to live in most unhygienic and precarious socio-economic conditions. Manual scavenging remains a human rights issue, inextricably linked with caste. Under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, i.e. 43 years after the Constitution abolished 'untouchability', it was already prohibited. It defined a manual scavenger as "a person engaged in or employed for manually carrying human excreta." Next came the 2012 Bill, which defined a manual scavenger as "engaged - - for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an unsanitary latrine, or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrine is disposed of, - -." The changed definition did allow the employers to issue gloves and protective clothing. Further, the Bill did introduce certain innovative ideas, such as banning construction of dry latrines and of employment of manual scavengers in hazardous cleaning of sewers or a septic tank, etc. [Ch. 4]
Innovative Work for Introduction of Sanitary Toilets in India by Sulabh International
A notable effort at all India level by a non-government initiative came from Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak who, inspired by Gandhi, did extensive studies on the subject after joining the Gandhi Centenary Celebration Committee in Bihar in 1969. Those days, there were hardly any toilets in rural households and schools in Bihar. Women were the worst sufferers as they had to go for open defecation before sunrise or after sunset. A large number of children died due to diarrhea, dehydration, dysentery, cholera, etc. In the late 1960s, 23 out of 48 cities with population over 1 lakh in India had sewerage system. Under his consistent efforts was developed the 2-pit pour-flush compost water-seal latrine with on-site disposal system, called 'Sulabh Schauchalaya' (SuSh). One pit is used at one time, and when it is full, the second one is used, and contents of the full pit in the meantime become manure. It uses 1 liter water to flush after use and there is no manual scavenging. It is a decentralized, affordable, and efficient sanitary substitute for open defecation and bucket latrines.
Though the concept of 'public' toilets was covered in the Bengal Municipal act, 1876, (amended in 1888) providing for community toilets on 'pay and use' basis, it had not taken off. Dr. Pathak revived the concept in Bihar in 1974 with a system of community toilets with bathing and urinal facilities, called Sulabh Schauchalaya Complex (SSC), with round-the-clock service and without any burden on public exchequer for their operation. SSCs are being provided in public areas such as bus-stands, railway stations, markets, and hospitals.
In the 6th Plan, a scheme for conversion of dry latrines based on the 2-pit Sulabh technology and for liberation and rehabilitation of scavengers was introduced at Dr. Pathak's initiative in 1980-81, and it has been in operation in amended forms in all states where manual scavenging exists. Dr. Pathak had founded the Sulabh International Social Service Organization (SISSO) in 1970 and, in co-operation with the governments, it has constructed (or substituted for the existing 'dry' type latrines) over 1.3 million individual household toilets as well as nearly 8,000 community toilets on 'pay and use' basis, of which 200 are linked with the biogas plants. Thus about 1 crore people use these Sulabh toilets daily. While the authorities mobilized resources and monitored the work, the SISSO did the work of motivation, training, design, estimation, implementation and follow-up. Sulabh has also liberated over 1,20,000 scavengers and trained over 8,000 of them in dignified trades and professions through vocational training. [Ch. 1, 14]
The Present State of Sanitation in India
The various programs notwithstanding, in India, sanitation has yet to become an integral part of the development paradigm. Numerous villages, towns and industries are yet to have an elaborate and effective mechanism of disposal of wastes. Few cities have an advanced state-of-art sewage treatment system. Drainage system, including storm water drainage, in a number of urban areas are inadequate. Municipalities in a large number of cities are making valiant efforts to ensure sanitation rights to their citizens. Sanitation policy and its multi-faceted implementation are sub-optimal. Sanitation issues are closely interlinked with those of defecation, waste control and disposal, water supplies, environment, and health, as well as with poverty, and there are wide disparities among states in sanitation outcomes. [Ch. 3]
The first sewerage system was introduced in Calcutta in 1870, and by 2008 only 929 out of 7933 towns/ cities in India had sewerage connection, and by 2014, 160 cities had the sewerage system with 270 sewage treatment plants [Sulabh International, June 2014]. Vide 2011 census, 116 million rural and 15 million urban households were without latrines. Further, 103 million households had bucket privies (cleaned manually by scavengers). Sanitary toilet coverage rose in India from 30.7% in 1990 to 46.9% in 2011 and open defecation came down from 73% to 49.8%. [Ch. 14]
The practice of manual scavenging was prohibited in 1993, the Act providing for imprisonment up to 1 year and fine of Rs. 2,000 or both; it has still to be fully eliminated. Nevertheless the data on the number of manual scavengers is ad hoc and incomplete.
[As a prime example of increasing pollution of rivers and streams over India, after going through the factors responsible for the failure so far of the Ganga Action Plan, the concerned parliamentary standing committee had doubts if the Government's mission of cleaning the Ganges by 2020 would be accomplished. There is need to urgently attend to the issue of sanitation of the pilgrimage sites, with environmental sanitation being the growing concern for the streams and rivers. [Ch. 19] During most of the year, the Yamuna now flows merely as a polluted drain within its Delhi NCT run.]
The Alma Ata Declaration (1978) required that 'primary health care' also include an adequate supply of safe water and basic sanitation, Indian Primary Health Centres have to tackle this more adequately. The TSC and other schemes have still to make sanitation practices fully operational at the mass and institutional levels. The recent 'Universal Health Coverage' scheme also needs to give greater importance of sanitation and potable water. [Ch. 3]
We have to ensure 'sanitation' at all the three levels: individual, community, and the state. A sanitation oriented development trajectory will ensure sanitation standards at the state and community levels which will impact the sanitation practices at the individual level. While the sanitation programmes (CRSP, TSC, NGP) consider 'open defecation' as the main sanitation challenge, sanitation shortfalls are also noticed in spheres such as polluting industries, urban areas without sewage treatment plants, open defecation on railway tracks, proliferating municipal solid wastes, dirty public spaces and throw-away habits. Sanitation has yet to become a common social value in India. Further, rural areas in general and urban areas inhabited by the poor pose serious problems such as lack of funds, space and organized systems for toilets, water supply and storages, drainage, refuse disposal and their misuse as dumping grounds for the C & D and other wastes. Sanitation can be ensured only through close interaction between the state structures and the society and necessary interventions to remove the 'sanitation' deficits. In fact, the right to sanitation must become a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. In India, almost three-fourths of the diseases responsible for low life expectancy and child mortality could be a result of unclean water, insanitation and environmental pollution. [Ch. 3, 17]
Sanitation is a 'state' subject and 74th amendment to the Constitution (1992) empowers urban local bodies with responsibility of public health, sanitation, conservancy and solid waste management. Proper sanitation facilities would also help women achieve their due social status as regards health, education, livelihood and life chances. However, the 'sanitation' sector is not commercially viable even though it is economically very viable. Its high capital and operating costs need a combination of grant, loan, and tariff funds. Further, provision of viability gap funding by central and state agencies remains a critical area. [Ch. 7, 21]
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: its parameters and challenges
As mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister had announced on Independence Day (15.8.2014) that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will be started from Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary (2.10.2014) under which we resolve to provide sanitary toilets and basic sanitation to all by the 150th birth anniversary (2019) of Gandhiji. He had also said in his Independence Day address that "we are living in 21st century. Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? - - The poor womenfolk of the village wait for the night; until darkness descends, they can't go out to defecate. - - - - when the hopes are not fulfilled, the society sinks into a state of despondency." One task to start today: all schools to have toilets. He also asked people to take the pledge: "I shall not litter and won't allow anyone to do so".
Government of India's plans (Abhiyan) essentially appear to cover the following major parameters of sanitation:
There are already signs of active initiatives being considered to fulfill the foremost aim of the Swachh Bharat mission. For example, the Maruti Suzuki Co. was given 'Excellent Sanitation and Toilet Award' at India Sanitation Summit 2015 for having decided to build 200 toilets in villages, thus eliminating open defecation there, by 2017 under its 'Corporate Social Responsibility'.
Indian Railways (IR) had already planned to have bio-latrines in all trains by 2021-22. The first train, Uzhavan Express was flagged off with 34 bio-latrines on 1.9.2013. IR has, in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) developed the whole design of bio-latrines for trains, the waste from which will be treated by anaerobic digestion, the resultant biogas being released and water being chlorinated and then expelled. IR has recently announced that as part of the Swachh Bharat mission, during next 2 years toilets will now be fitted in all trains. Also, as a start, the sections Jammu – Katra and Kanalus – Dwarka – Okha will be made 'no discharge of the defecation on the tracks' by 2 October 2015.
In Bihar, the state government has decided that anyone living in a house without a toilet will not be allowed to contest a municipal or panchayat election. It has planned to provide all homes with toilet by 2019.
Such examples are encouraging. However, it has yet to be ensured that the tasks under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are clearly defined and systems put in place for timely fulfillment.
The article gives a brief review of the important initiatives made during over last 100 years to pursue the objective of sanitation, including its hygienic, social and economic aspects, in India. It started soon after Gandhi's arrival in South Africa in 1893, and till 1914, with his growing involvement in inducing sanitary practices among Indians there, in both personal and corporate spheres, also as a safeguard against the then recurrent epidemics like plague, and including making scavenging as a respectable duty of every person. This also prepared him for his widespread movement for sanitation in India from 1915 onwards till his martyrdom (30.1.1948).
His movement in India was multifaceted but was obviously related to the situation of his time, when India was mostly a rural and under-developed country. At the practical level, his efforts covered mostly the issues of providing sanitary latrines in homes and the safe disposal of human waste as manure, rural sanitation, and the social issue of 'untouchability' as linked to the practice of an isolated caste group being condemned to look after scavenging and other such 'dirty' tasks. At the conceptual level, Gandhi was remarkably modern and remains equally relevant today. He interlinked the issues of sanitation, cleanliness and hygiene with the issues of waste generation and its management.
He was probably the first leader to repeatedly emphasize that, the responsibility for sanitary living applied equally at personal, domestic, and corporate levels. He even said that that unless we "rid ourselves of our dirty habits and have improved latrines, swaraj can have no value for us." [CW 14:56-58] He defined waste or dirt as "matter displaced", and persisted that, as far as possible, all wastes should be appropriately recycled as useful resources. Thus, he wanted all human waste, dung, refuse and other bio-degradable waste to be converted into 'goldlike' manure. He advocated scientific approach in all aspects of sanitation and wanted India to learn from the West in the matter of sanitation. He adopted "cleanliness is next to godliness" even as a student but later changed that into "cleanliness is godliness". He wanted his followers to take up "the whole subject of economic waste" occurring through ways such as preventable diseases, wrong feeding, and loss of valuable resources as wastes. He considered the task of scavenging as the noblest, even higher than what a mother did for her babies.
After India became independent, Government of India and state governments as also some non-government entities, notably Dr. Bindeswar Pathak's Sulabh International, have been working in order to promote sanitation in India. The government agencies have been taking up varied programmes, which have certainly made their impacts, but as the needs and dimensions of concern have also been growing these impacts have been increasingly inadequate to address the scale and range of issues related to sanitation requiring urgent attention. Gandhi had started his movement for sanitation in India in 1915. Since then India's population has grown 7 to 8 times, Indian society has progressively urbanized, and socio-economic structures have been modernizing and moving towards the global standards of developed countries. Hence, both the categories and complexities of the problems concerning lack of sanitation and wastes too have been growing.
Under such a situation, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, inspired by the Gandhian movement for sanitation itself,comes as a message of hope and a very timely initiative taken by the Government of India. The first set of goals of the Swachh Bharat mission rightly cover provision of toilets in every home and in public places and treatment of human waste, wastewater and refuse. However, as the overall situation concerning sanitation in India, despite all efforts so far, has been becoming ever more urgent, it is also necessary to consider extending the scope of the mission so as to cover all of the major areas relating to India's present requirements of sanitation. These would include:
The term 'management' of wastes includes waste collection (including required segregation), transport, storage, treatment and disposal, providing maximum possible scope for the 3Rs-recovery, reuse, and recycling-of the wastes as valuable resources. The following two principals, now universally accepted, must form the very basis of any waste management system:
For the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to comprehensively be a success as an all encompassing programme for sanitation in India, it could further highlight its broad approach, concern areas, and the phasing of the Abhiyan with national and statewise targets for each major drive. It would of course also provide for the necessary institutional structures for laying down precise plans of action, monitoring the progress, delivering the results, and providing technical support. The areas of necessary funding systems need a very high priority. The Abhiyan has set its aims for the first phase (2 October 2015 – 2 October 2019). The Abhiyan can be seen as a long-term mission, with similar setting of targets for each successive phase until India can stand up to any developed country in the field of all-round sanitation including management of all the related wastes.
The challenge of ensuring all-round sanitation is not merely an issue of non-pollution and cleanliness. In modern times, sanitation has huge economic outcomes also, not only in the form of providing health and hygiene (and the resultant longer productive life spans and reduced medical costs) but increasingly as savings of valuable resources by ensuring a holistic view of the life-cycle of each resource and through the 3Rs 'chains'. We need to engage in studies and analyses of the true costs to the society of having insanitation including the losses incurred through the generation of the 'wastes', and the resultant economic gains through instituting the sanitation processes in India.