From manual scavenging to ODF J&K has come a long way

Sunny Dua
Governor Satya Pal Malik on September 15, 2018 declared Jammu and Kashmir Open Defecation Free (ODF) State and also launched “Swachhta Hi Seva” – a fortnight long cleanliness campaign for public awareness and involvement of community in making streets, roads, offices, educational institutions and infrastructure of our state clean enough for leading a healthy life. This indeed is an achievement that needs to be maintained and carried forward at all costs so that this social behavioral change that has been inculcated amongst people now becomes a habit.
Just about two decades ago, even urban areas of Jammu and Kashmir State including capital cities were plagued with manual scavenging. As youngsters we used to see an aged lady often called ‘Appa Ji’ coming all the way from New Plot area on foot to clean toilets built on rooftops, clean human excreta, carry it on her head and walk a distance to dispose it off. This dehumanizing practice was done using brooms, tin plates, buckets and shovels against a paltry sum. Likewise all homes had one or the other fellow carrying people’s shit on their heads. Painful it was!
Still unfortunate was that this job was caste-based work and even learned of people allowed this to happen till law prohibited them latest by 1993. Toilets built on rooftops were to be kept dry for which there was no mechanism than making these people lift waste on their heads in baskets early morning and drain out leftover using water. This was so inexpiable that many raised their voices against it making nation come out with law closing curtains on manual scavenging forever. The moment that started from Maharashtra swept entire nation. That was one victory over social evil.
Today when J&K State has been declared ODF, I believe it’s a second battle won against unhygienic practices and insanitation prevalent in this part of the country. Earlier also several attempts were made to change people’s behaviors in J&K State wherein Government sponsored toilets, septic tanks and soakage pits were built in old city areas but nothing worked. Similar attempts were also made to ensure that people use public toilets at petrol pumps, hotels and restaurants which to some extent gave relief to at least women folk.
J&K like other states headed towards becoming ODF when Sulabh Toilet Complexes added pace to this drive. Finally, it was Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) that encouraged eliminating open defecation through construction of household-owned and community-owned toilets. This movement proved as last nail in the coffin and made J&K State ODF. Started on 2 October 2014 from Rajghat by the Prime M’inister Narendra Modi the campaign is expected to make India ODF by 2 October 2019 marking 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. If done, this would be first step towards making cities ‘Smart’.
An estimated 90 million toilets have been planned to be constructed in rural India at a projected cost of 1.96 lakh crore under this mission. Now that Jammu and Kashmir state has earned the status of ODF next herculean task ahead is to get rid of Open Garbage Collection Points (OGCP) that have come up everywhere. What’s needed is people’s participation which will not only help Jammu and Kashmir sustain ODF status but also get our cities rid of Open Garbage Collection Points (OGCP). This could be next national movement starting from Jammu and making country OGCPF.
Unfortunately, people who earlier encouraged and continued manual scavenging in J&K State and today throng expensive showrooms looking for world class sanitary-ware to make their bathrooms more comfortable and lavish instead of contributing towards making city clean and ODF are the ones littering everywhere. This is the reason we are having Open Garbage Collection Points (OGCP) scattered outside government schools, hospitals, roadsides, squares, near dairies, outside police control rooms and in densely populated areas mocking at official responsible for maintaining hygiene in our cities.
Those engaged by Municipal Corporation in Jammu to lift this garbage from OGCP are provided with no facilities and many could be seen lifting filth with their bare hands even today. This says it all that even when manual scavenging stands banned workers are still being subjected to dehumanizing practices. Still shocking is that in many localities illegal parallel garbage collectors pocket money taken from people, use infrastructure of Municipal Corporation and dump garbage on roads depriving the department of revenue needed to keep city clean and also add to their woes.
In nutshell Municipal Corporations and Committees for that matter have completely failed in our state in keeping our surroundings free from garbage dumps. Now that elections to these institutions have been announced it’s believed that new teams will deliberate upon the most vital issue and get city rid of OGC Points. Coming back to Swaachh Bharat Abhiyan launched in both rural and urban areas, all 22 districts, 4,171 Gram Panchayats and 7,565 villages of Jammu and Kashmir have fallen in the bracket of ODF at par with other 19 states for achieving 100 per cent results.
For Jammu and Kashmir State it should be a matter of pride that by becoming ODF it has added to a whopping figure of over 300 million people who were earlier defecating in open. What’s needed now is proper monitoring especially in urban areas and posh localities where labour class use open residential plots or nullahs for defecation. Strangely seventy-six percent of the 892 million people practicing open defecation in the world live in just seven countries and India is amongst those nations. Those opposing moves to end OD must understand that this practice not only pollutes environment but also causes health problems which can get stretched to child mortality, poor nutrition, poverty and large disparities between rich and poor.
Now that J&K State has declared open defecation free, monitoring agencies must ensure that this menace of open defecation doesn’t crop up again owning to excuses like lack of infrastructure, lack of toilets in schools, poor quality of toilets, unsafe toilets, lack of water and fear of pit getting filled. This being the second victory over unhygienic practices has to be carried forward with execution of Smart City projects and remaining practices of littering everywhere has to be stopped to make Jammu or Srinagar come at par with any other world class city.


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