The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched last year by the Prime Minister is the new mantra of cleanliness (https://swachhbharat.mygov.in/). A very welcome initiative; much has already been written about the campaign. While some have examined why the program is struggling; others have tried to understand the sanitation behaviour in rural north India and the reasons why many do not use toilets even if they are constructed.
We however, want to focus on the abysmal state of many of the poorer and neglected localities in Delhi. The filth, stench, dirt and poor sanitation in many of these localities left us wondering about the efforts over the last so many years in Delhi.
During an assignment we did in Delhi in 2014, we got the opportunity to visit the many galis nooks and crannies in Chandni chowk, Nabi Karim (Near railway station), Gandhi Nagar, and Madanpur Khadar among others. While as always it was a pleasure interacting with the residents in these locations, one of the things most strikingly common in all these locations that just could not be ignored was – the sheer filth and dirt!!!
While we walked through these lanes, the first instinct was to cover our face! Think of it … so many people live in these places day in and out!
The civic conditions are abysmal. Many of these locations are resettlement colonies, where people from across slums in Delhi have been moved. While building
these settlements, no care has been taken to ensure proper roads, space, sewage and drainage. Open drains flow alongside houses, many of which are used for defecation as well. There are no public garbage dumps and no systems of waste collection. Public toilets are few and far and there is no regular water supply. In focus group discussions with women in Madanpur Khadar, they pointed out ‘that while the authorities had built public toilets, there were very few compared to the number of residents. In addition, despite having to pay for use, they were extremely dirty.’ Some also felt that Rs.1, 2 and 5 levied as fee for use was very high. For a family of 5 with each member bathing once and using the toilet; the average per day cost was anything above Rs 25; a huge cost indeed for many of poorer households. Hence, many resorted to open defecation.
There is no regular water supply in these areas. In many locations, water tankers are sent by the authorities. There are no fixed times and days of water supply; also several residents complain of muddy water in the public supplies. As a result many households purchase water commercially, for drinking and cooking, adding to their costs
In the absence of regular water, no space for toilets to be constructed within houses, unhygienic community toilets, which also entail considerable expenses to use; more investment in toilet construction may not lead to any perceptible improvement. Perhaps, a comprehensive approach under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, which addresses aspects of housing, provision of water, roads, waste disposal systems and toilet construction, is the way forward; at least in these localities in Delhi.