Tag Archives: SwachhBharat

Stories hidden behind percentages

By Sharmila Ray, Senior Program Officer, PRIA

SLBConnect is currently live in both program cities of Uttar Pradesh- Rae Bareli and Varanasi. About 35 surveyors are active in both cities collecting data from about 13, 000 households. We are targeting to complete the data collection process by the end of March. The team is collecting a lot of valuable data on various service aspects on water and sanitation in both cities. These metrics include service quality, frequency, adequacy, billing, ways to lodge service related complaints, if users’ voice gets heard and whether citizens engage with their local governments on service related issues on a regular basis.

The data will be analyzed using statistical methods similar to what the government uses to assess service quality of these very same metrics. The difference? We will be presenting the citizen’s view to complement official records to understand gaps and differences. We have quite a few plans and aspiration on ways in which we can use this data in productive tangible ways, but that is the subject of another post.

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 The government has placed handpumps in every neighbourhood. Most residents depend on this as a source of drinking water.

Because of the interactions with citizens during the data collection process, our team becomes privy to people’s stories about what these services or its lack means for some lives. I had said a few days back that one of the best things about the SLBConnect survey is the numerous stories it invites you to even if for a short while; and the invaluable insights these stories provide. These stories have stayed with me and continue to guide our understanding when we make sense of data-sets and corresponding graphs.

A young girl from Rae Bareli’s squatter colony told me that during festivities, her mother, a domestic help stays out the entire day due to increased work load at the households where she is employed. During these times, the girl and her sisters have to control their bladders and the need to defecate for the entire day since they cannot go out unassisted. In dire situations they check whether the older women from their neighborhoods can assist them.

Weak infrastructure regardless, Indian cities are seeing fast growth. And with this comes ubiquitous construction– every direction in which you look there is some form of construction. With this, the open space available for people to defecate has been shrinking. “We can only go before sunrise or after midnight when everyone is sleeping. The rest of the day we have to control,” a young girl told me.

Some houses build pit toilets so the women can have a place to defecate safely. I met the parents of four girls during a survey and they me how both were suffering from arthritis but would still walk to the fields to defecate because the pit toilet built in her home was small and they would rather their girls were safe. “No one will harm us; we have neither money nor youth. But our girls can’t go outside that far and in the open. Their safety gets threatened,” was the reason they gave me.

I was visiting a village in Purulia for an education project sometime back. There were two community toilets built as part of a government programme. The people told me how it had become a curse because in the absence of a water source nearby it had become a breeding ground for germs and infections. Their grouse “If only the government and contractors listened to us, we would have told them where to build the toilets”.

Not knowing the way in which data might be representing the truths tangled in people’s realities affects our understanding and our subsequent decisions. People’s participation (or *citizen engagement*) will take us a long way in bringing out perspectives from the ground in improving services. I am increasingly coming to believe that participation is not enough. It also has to be complemented by persuasion to change people’s behavior.???????????????????????????????

 Surveyors talking to residents in trying to assess the area characteristics before doing the neighbourhood survey.

 I could participate and respond in ways which suit my self-interest (consciously or subconsciously)/awareness about options or even service expectations, but this might not necessarily help always. For instance, 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. But without revenues the government cannot function either. It becomes the classic ‘chicken or egg- which one came first’ problem. And in these aspects, the persuasion factor should certainly play more of a role.

Am I being overtly idealistic? I do not know. What I do for sure know is that the jargon we lose ourselves in sometimes arises from real problems faced by people. It is an open question about where participation should end and persuasion begin and one that certainly requires debate. But I am beginning to believe that it is a necessary debate and step.

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A day in RAE BARELI……….

By Swathi Subramaniam, Program Officer, PRIA

I had a chance to visit Rae Bareli for the first time. Rae Bareli is a constituency of Sonia Gandhi and has been the constituency of Gandhi family for many decades. Naturally, I was very much excited and was expecting to see a model constituency.

The city has well known institutes like NIFT, AIIMS, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, NIPER, Feroze Gandhi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Feroze Gandhi College etc. and many other colleges named after Gandhi family. Another visible ‘development’ is the connectivity to Lucknow through Lucknow – Rae Bareli highway. However, when I visited these localities within Rae Bareli the experience was shocking.

The local transportation is very unwelcoming with broken buses. Living in Delhi we are used to seeing landmarks and directions for different areas but perhaps expecting such a thing in Rae Bareli is a luxury. The city continues to have Horse Drawn Carriages as an important source of transportation. There are no autos. Quality of hotels in the area is much below standards as expected in any normal small town. If you do not have a cab or a local person with you it is impossible to move around the city. In spite of being a politically important place and having many educational institutes we could not find places which could be visited for relaxation. Another interesting observation was that very few girls were found on the city roads.

The city has umpteen number of handpumps found every 300-400 meters which is the major source of water for drinking. Ironically the Piped Water Connections inside the household deliver poor quality of water. The piped water is not fit for drinking hence leading to several illnesses. That is why this water becomes a source for “water used for non-potable purposes”.

The city has a sewage issue. Every side of the road, dirty water is stagnated. The whole city lacks a lot of such basic amentias which portray a different view of the city than what one would expect from such a politically important place.

Rae Bareli is an eye opener for the development illness it is suffering.

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.