Shared by Nidhi S. Batra
In what could turn out to be its calling card for the 2014 general elections, the government is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore —Har Hath Mein Phone—scheme to give one mobile phone to every family living below the poverty line.
The scheme planned to empower the poor is likely to benefit telecom service providers and can also increase the GDP growth. The move is also seen as UPA’s motive to communicate with this important electorate who play a big role during polls.
United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health recent report highlighted the fact that India has over 545 million cell phone users as compared to about 366 million people having access to improved sanitation. This makes one wonder ‘why a country that is now wealthy enough cannot afford the basic necessity of a toilet, where 69% of the country still adheres to open defecation?
Why do the poor see the ‘mobile’ as an urgent need, rather than hygienic conditions of living? And why or rather how has this telecom sector been able to penetrate to large population, wherein the infrastructure just couldn’t?
For the poor, it can be argued that though policy makers see sanitation infrastructure with the express intent of reducing contamination, but for the poor it enforces a culture of hygiene that in turn imposes additional cess on their daily survival. Another interesting development was seen when hundreds of newly built toilets had been ripped apart by poor households in many parts of rural Madhya Pradesh. Such incidents reportedly abound across the countryside. The reason: possessing a toilet lifts the households above the poverty line (as it adds up the requisite points to jump the line) and strips the poor family of the lucrative monthly doles like assured employment and free food grains.
On the other hand, the de-regulation of telecom sector may have impelled the mobile phone market through private-sector investment but the subsidy-driven sanitation sector has failed to create a market for toilets. ‘Total sanitation campaign,’ the government’s flagship programme launched in 1999, has suffered on account of peoples’ apathy. Far from generating demand, it hasn’t even encouraged adoption of toilets that come with a subsidy of Rs 2,500 per toilet.
Sudhirendar Sharma, a water expert, very rightly states ‘The virtue of living ‘below poverty line’ is without doubt compelling; a one-time toilet in contrast is a poor substitute. The tragedy is that neither has the technology of toilet been examined as a reflection of perceived needs nor has it been seen as intent to fuel demand through institutional innovation for fighting poverty. Unless the issue of toilet is perceived in its totality, it will be easier to dial than to flush’