Hyderabad has been declared open defecation free (ODF) by the Indian government.
A Quality Council of India (QCI) inspectorate visited the city to check its sanitation facilities. This followed a series of efforts by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) to boost access to sanitation in the Telangana state capital.
The measures included the building of 1,975 private toilets and 384 communal toilets, with more underway. Facilities have reportedly been made available every half-kilometre in commercial areas as well as in public facilities such as hotels, restaurants and petrol stations.
Some of the measures put in place by the GHMC to discourage open defecation have been somewhat more unorthodox. One initiative sees GHMC workers draw attention to those they find urinating in public by blowing a whistle and making noises with a stick in a bid to publicly shame them. Garlanding and fines have also been used as deterrents.
‘A herculean task’
Hyderabad self-declared as an ODF city in August last year after corporators from each of its 150 wards certified their respective districts as open defecation free. The quality control team has certified this, leading to the city being given the ODF seal by the centre.
Mayor Bonthu Ram Mohan described achieving the certification as ‘a herculean task.’ He credits Telangana minister for information technology, municipal government and urban development K. T. Rama Rao for his ‘efforts and inspiration.’
The city will have to have its ODF tag recertified by a quality control team in six months’ time. The city is up to this task according to GHMC Commissioner B. Janardhan Reddy, who pledges ‘we will continue with our effort to retain the ODF tag.’
Good intentions aside, however, there are concerns that achieving the ODF tag may not be the distinction it is promoted to be. The Hindustan Times reports that, of the 2.5 lakh villages declared ODF, 1.5 lakh of them have not been verified.
In Mumbai, which was declared open defecation free in both January and July last year, photographs of continued open defecation in the city has led to criticism of the ranking, including by the state government.
The same may become true of Hyderabad, though this has yet to be seen. It is worth noting that open defecation has become a social and cultural norm in India. Some research identifies this as one of the major barriers to the use of proper toilet facilities. Sometimes, open defecation is not a matter of necessity. It can be a matter of personal preference.
Cleaning India has been a flagship priority of the Modi government. The successes of the initiative in boosting sanitation coverage cannot be denied. However, with implementation must come uptake for policies to be effective.
Measuring the prevalence of open defecation by an impartial inspectorate is a good start. However, this should be regularly maintained by city administrators.
It should also be recognised that deterrent measures can only go so far. The handing out of fines and dispensing shame may be effective in some cases. However, it is also necessary to educate people about the dangers of open defecation – particularly for women – and how it presents a threat to both the cleanliness of India’s cities and the health of its citizens.