Op-ed Sanitation & Cleanliness

Why is it so important for India to become ODF?

The day is finally here. Working as a consultant in Swachh Bharat Mission from past two years, I can’t control my happiness that the day when India will be declared Open Defecation Free(ODF) is around the corner and I ponder about all the efforts that have been put for realising this dream of Mahatma Gandhi.

Why is it so important to become ODF? What is the need to become one? Let us know.

As per the United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6 mandates providing Clean Water and Sanitation for all. Thus by claiming India to be ODF, we are telling the world that India has achieved the massive feat of providing access to safe sanitation to each and every 1.2 billion citizens of the country. Thus we will be moving one step closer towards Sustainable Development.

This was neither done by a single person nor in a single day. It took the commitment and hard work of the union and the federal governments along with the Panchayati Raj Institutions, Urban Local bodies, the SHGs, private entities, NGOs and the citizens for 5 long years. It is supposedly the world’s largest behavioural change communication program which was essentially led by women.

Once upon a time, toilets were considered a luxury by many. With the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, this changed and a revolution started which sensitised everyone that toilet was a necessity for every household and one must not shy away from demanding for it.

Earlier, women who didn’t have access to toilets at home had to wait for long hours until the sun set to relieve themselves. Not to forget the long distance they had to travel and the necessity to hide themselves. If they had toilet at home, the time and effort thus saved could have been invested in education, employment which would improve their family and social life. After the launch of this scheme many women especially from rural areas have found employment opportunities as masons to construct toilets, as manufacturers and traders of construction material and also as financiers.  No doubt that the government has empowered the women by providing them access to toilets and opportunities and also spurred rural economy. Apart from this construction of toilets has led to prevention of fecal oral transmission which otherwise would lead to umpteen number of diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, anaemia, etc.

Toilets not only for households, but also at schools, colleges, offices, hospitals, community halls and all public places were stressed upon. Not only access to toilet but also safe disposal of faeces through tried and tested technology has been stressed upon. Apart from access to toilets, solid and liquid waste management and plastic ban have been stressed upon in order to make our villages and cities a cleaner place. Through this mission India has set an example for developing countries on how to achieve sustainable development goals. Proud to have been part of this mission.

The ideal village, according to the Mahatma, “will be so constructed as to lend itself to perfect sanitation.”

Author, Ashwin Kumar B is an Environmental Engineer. He is also a budding travel photographer who loves to explore India’s natural and cultural heritage and educate about them through his photos and blogs.