Monthly Archives: January 2015

Open defecation and India’s urban poor

By Sharmila Ray, Senior Program Officer, PRIA

A couple of months back my cousin and I got talking about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It’s a good policy if it can be implemented and Prime Minister Modi is right, having strong, efficient sanitation services is a good way to restore dignity to India’s people. Sanitation is also of course an essential service and just by that it should cover 100% of the country’s population. This was my point.

My cousin agreed but raised a question. If in the last few decades of the 19th century, people in England, rich and poor both, could rally the government for water and sanitation services why was it that in India, it takes so much rhetoric and government policy pressure in as late as 2014. Why was it that Indians, regardless of social status were willing to spend so much money and energy on marriages and festivals but not on ensuring basic community or household level sanitation? He was exasperated “Why can’t they build more toilets?”

According to UNICEF, nearly 50% of India’s population defecates in the open. 37 million from India’s cities resort to open defecation which is about 12% of India’s urban households. The situation is worse in smaller cities (population<100,000) with open defecation at around 22%.

Some houses are too small for all members to dig pit toilets within its premises

Some houses are too small for all members to dig pit toilets within its premises

My experience from the field while working on SLBConnect tells me that most people do understand that these are important services. During field work, many have told me how unfair it is that they don’t have access to clean water or that even where toilets have been made, there is no water connections/source close by. There have been quite a few awareness raising campaigns in the last decade and these seemed to have worked.

In many small towns and cities, more than half the houses are not connected to sewerage facilities either because there are no sewerage connections close by, or because their households haven’t been connected to the main city sewerage network.  In some towns, houses do not want to connect with the main sewerage line because they believe they will be charged for services, something they are unwilling to pay for.

In the cities we are in the process of surveying- Ajmer, Jhunjhunu and Rae Bareli- the urban poor living in squatter colonies have dug pit toilets or arranged for soak pits and other such way of discharging waste water since their houses are not covered by sewerage networks.  Not every can afford to do so though. Some houses are too small to support pit toilets since these need constant cleaning otherwise feces starts piling high and the houses start smelling and becoming unhygienic. Only the young girls of the house use these pit toilets for the sake of their safety, the others go out in the open. Not everyone owns a residential space big enough to have soak pits either.

Young girls try and avoid open defecation as much as they can especially during daylight since the amount of safe or hidden places available have been shrinking with ubiquitous construction

Young girls try and avoid open defecation as much as they can especially during daylight since the amount of safe or hidden places available have been shrinking with ubiquitous construction

There is also the population of urban poor living in non-notified and unauthorized slums. To put it simply non-notified and unauthorized slums are those slums which are not recognized by the State. This means that residents have no claim on any service- water, sanitation, electricity etc.

These are people literally in a no man’s land. They do not own the houses they live in, the utensils are not theirs, nor the clothes, nor anything else. These can be razed, burnt, thrown, taken without any legal implications. Come monsoon, houses get washed away, and then plastic covers and mud houses emerge again out of the slush like sprouting mushrooms. Every monsoon. No sanitation either. So people defecate in the open and there is no way to clean the place. When you are in no man’s land nothing belongs to you, and nothing possibly can. In this piece of land you are the mercy of others. What can you possibly claim here?

Just building scattered toilets will not work and cannot work. Unless these basic infrastructure issues are addressed along with the necessary behavior change, an open defecation free India will remain a distant dream and the content of mere rhetoric.


Gendered impacts of water poverty

By Sakshi Saini, Senior Program Officer, PRIA


No matter which region or state or socio-economic strata one visits, the plight of women remains the same. The only variation is that they face the brunt of all these socially ascribed roles in a different cultural setting. As part of the SLB connect program which aims at engaging citizens in collecting, analysing and communicating feedback to service providers through mobile technology based survey, I got the chance to visit some of the districts of Rajasthan, where our team visited both formal and informal settlements. I was quite excited to be exposed to new dynamics of these areas. Although after talking to the women from the community I realised that other than the change in cultural and socio-economic status, the role of women in the community remains the same. She is the one responsible for accession and management of resources required to run a household and ensure proper functioning of the household. These women put in substantial time and effort in organising such things. The economic status of the household might help her fulfilling these roles, which also means that it is the poor women who are more vulnerable due to diminishing resource availability.


It is estimated that one fourth of the urban Indian population is poor. The poor who cannot afford adequate housing for themselves live in different types of urban poor settlements where they have limited access to basic services such as reliable water supply and clean sanitation facilities. As per Urban Poverty Report 2009, urban poverty in India is over 25 percent; some 81 million people live in urban areas surviving on incomes that are below the poverty line. Women residing in these informal settlements face challenges with lack of proper water and sanitation facilities. They spend quality time and a large portion of their monthly income in accessing them. It is they who are impacted most due to their socially ascribed roles and responsibilities for attainment and management of resources and services such as water and sanitation. This takes a toll on the time they can spend on income generation and other productive activities. Sapna one of the residents from phoos ka bangla, an informal settlement in Jaipur pointed out that she spends 2-3 hrs daily in accessing and managing water. She mentioned that at times she is forced to take help from her daughter in acquiring water for the entire family. In spite of all her efforts to ensure that her daughter’s education doesn’t suffer, at times Sapna has to let her daughter miss out on school so that she can help her with household chores specially collecting water for the family. It has become routine that women and children (especially girls) end up wasting their productive time in managing basic amenities, which if readily available will help in saving time, which can further be used in economically productive activities. It’s not just income that these women lose out on, women are even cutting down on leisure activities, child care, girls are missing out on education and career development, which are important aspects in leading a healthy and holistic life. Moreover many women report incidents of eve-teasing on their way to water sources. They are subjected to lot of humiliation and insensitivity, with hardly any assistance from the family members.

It’s not just the scarce quantity of water but even the deteriorated quality of water that manifests its impact on women’s life. Deteriorated water quality is one of the major causing agents of diseases in our country. As more family members fall ill, the care-providing burden manifests itself. Women pay physical, psychological and economic toll in order to fulfill the socially ascribed responsibility of fetching and managing water. With the increasing stress on water resources this manifestation of gender inequality may further exacerbate the existing gender inequalities in society.

Several steps, including institutional, financial and behavioral changes are required to ensure safe and easy access to water supply. Moreover, the gender perspective of the problem needs to be understood as women suffer the most as a result of the problems arising due to lack of access to water.

Sustainability of Smart Cities

By Sakshi Saini, Senior Program Officer, PRIA

Living anywhere in the world has its own ups and downs, whether it’s a metropolitan city where we have infrastructure, opportunities, traffic, and stress, or a village, where there is no infrastructure, no traffic, but proximity to nature and environment. It depends on how and where we want to spend our lives. Development with technology is a very attractive phenomenon. It keeps us involved and busy with our lives, but has always struck with a direct effect on nature, environment and our health. Today, when nature is looking back at us with vengeance, we are coming up with innovative ideas for development that claim to least effect our environment with increased human comfort. Smart city is one such concept.

Let’s get to the definition and characteristics of a smart city, A smart city uses digital technologies to enhance performance and wellbeing, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. It creates its own water source with the help of rain water harvesting techniques, electricity with the help of solar panels and windmills. Smart homes and smart offices will generate and use its own electricity, and will use smart technology and appliances that consume lesser electricity and are smart enough to automatically switch to power savings mode. With smart governance everything will be connected and can be monitored with the help of sensors and internet with the click of a mouse, thus saving a whole lot of human effort. People will use eco-friendly vehicles and public transport to commute. With innovations such as Smart Phones, GPS tracking, parking space locater, our transit systems will become more comfortable and reliable. The ultimate aim of a smart city is to make our lives more simple and our development more sustainable.

Now, imagine a Monday morning rush hour scenario outside your neighbourhood where all the traffic lights are green with a Boeing 777 waiting outside. Such was depicted in a famous Hollywood movie where a Firecell devastated the entire financial, transportation and defence systems of a whole country.

All these concepts of smart city look really tempting and promising on paper although there practicality and sustainability is questionable. History has shown that such ideas usually crumble beneath their own weight when abused by human nature and behaviour. With the ever increasing population and our growing dependence on technology, will such “smart” cities be able to provide infrastructure and resources as and where required, will the network bandwidth not choke with a majority of population online, will the government and utility systems not collapse as a result of vulnerable internet backbones, will the “Cloud” not burst under the weight of its own information are questions that remain unanswered.

These smart cities aren’t just some far off futuristic abstract twinkling in the New World Order’s eyes, these are being built as you read this paper. Think privacy and freedom are limited commodities now? Try having either of those things living in a smart city control grid where everything you do is tracked, traced, chipped and monitored. There isn’t enough manmade global warming hoax propaganda and green guilt in the whole wide universe that should make any of us want to step one foot into this Orwellian nightmare!

Think about those dumb down brain dead citizens trapped in a smart city producing stuff that is not required or Robots doing your daily household with power sources capable of auto-generation and protocols that can be changed with a laptop. Compassion lives or dies in human heart. Compassion can’t be forced. Yes, we are interconnected naturally but I don’t think that we can compare that given interconnectedness to a man-made technological “smart” connection of all things and humans because the man-made one reduces you to the level of a machine. Machines don’t have a soul, feelings, intuitions, can’t be compassionate, can’t pray and can’t be aware of signs and miracles. Machines are dead matter which process information. I could be wrong but prevention is better than cure.

I write to explore the solutions by going back to our roots and traditional know how. This indigenous knowledge has helped our human race sustain for ages. Smart cities will be smart only when people learn to live peacefully, with limited resources and live in harmony with nature. In order to do so, there is an imperative need to enhance capacity of people not only in terms of technology but awareness and knowledge about the burgeoning issues pertaining to sustainable development.