Housing is key to solving toilet issue

Toilet is a genuine need but it is, largely, not an attitudinally and physically felt need.

Our country’s needs are in a sense exemplified by its state of sanitation and the massiveness of the extent of open defecation practised. Roughlyb 626 millions openly defecate and they constitute 60 per cent of the related world numbers (A WHO report of Feb 2011). This sanitation problem is prevalent in 67 per cent of panchayat areas. The cities too are dogged by this deficiency.  Every day about 1,000 children are dying in India due to diarrhoea, preventable with improved sanitation and hand washing with soap. In the past 5 years, Rs 45,000 crore has been spent on this issue; in the next 5 years a sum of Rs 1.08 lakh crore is to be spent on this problem. These statistics make us think about the wider perspectives, needs and attitudes.     

This problem of toilet use is deeper. It is a genuine need but it is, largely, not an attitudinally and physically felt need. When people do not have meaningful space to sit, stand, eat and lie down, they may not think that they need a lavatory. And so amidst their excruciating wants, providing for themselves a personal lavatory will perhaps have a very low priority. Even if they are supplied with the requisite money or due materials and advice, they may not choose the facility.

Unrealistic expectation

So expecting the poor of our country to equip themselves and use their respective lavatories is as of now unrealistic. Also, this use needs a lot of water additionally and this is very scarce in villages, towns and cities and so this sanitary practice may not catch up even if efforts are made.  Hence, this needs a perspectival and urgent solution including recycling and use of grey water. 

There is the complementary problem of massive housing shortage: a large proportion of people live in slums, squatter settlements, shanties and low lying unwholesome areas with very little drinking water and waste disposal facilities and entry or access; without even a semblance of legitimacy or rights of residence. The low and ultra-low income people including slum dwellers need 29 million housing units according to a recent finding of the 12th Plan working group.

On the other hand, experts have suggested that each potential household waiting to be deslummed, requires a built accommodation of 25 square metres of a formal kind, including toilet, bath and kitchen. Efforts to provide toilets should therefore become an integral part of translocating slum people into wholesome tenements in towns and cities; a bare provision of toilets may not be feasible and may even fail to receive practical social acceptance.

Certain corollaries follow from this. A reverse calculation yields roughly that these people number about 12 crore taking 4 persons as constituting a household. Another published heuristic calculation suggests that of these 29 million households needing accommodation having monthly incomes of less than Rs 5,000 number about 26 million; and the rest 3 million have incomes below Rs 10,000. These people need urgent governments’ inventive support of every kind to have their housing needs fulfilled.

Obviously, land acquisition on a massive scale, locational determination and distribution, providing for adequate and credible potable water supply, roads and drains, rain water conservation, planned topographic modifications, provision of sewerage system etc. cannot be forthcoming without governments’ technical and financial and planning intervention. 

Taking that each tenement measuring 25 square metres floor area inclusive of land acquisition costs will entail an expenditure of Rs 3 lakh, the total outlay for the nearly 30 million tenements will be Rs 9 lakh crore. With the Central and state governments and various banks including the National Housing Bank making planned and coordinated efforts, spending of this sum over the next 5 or 10 years may not be difficult. Of course there are real cost and time over run contingencies requiring to be forestalled. 
 
This massive construction effort will create a huge demand for cement, steel, bricks, stone quarrying, asphalting, stone ware pipes, plumbing, painting etc. And this concomitantly will create huge employment opportunities and poverty will thus abate significantly. Lasting and tangibly useful assets also get created.

Socially too this has the prospect of spreading many kinds of development. Satellite towns have to be planned with the objective of decentralised urbanisation. Migration to metropolitan and larger cities may become decelerated. If the possibility of working from home in the service sector is explored, transportation problem may be abated. Thus, by making toilet provision a part of housing provision, many types of socio-economic developments may come about in India.           

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