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Good to go: US$7 billion toilet program

Two-thirds of rural homes lack facilities

Vidya Balan, brand ambassador for the Clean India Campaign, with federal minister Jairam Ramesh Vidya Balan, brand ambassador for the Clean India Campaign, with federal minister Jairam Ramesh
  • Swati Deb, New Delhi
  • India
  • October 1, 2012
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A recent survey claimed more Indians had mobile phones than toilets, even though the single biggest cause of malnutrition in India is poor sanitation and hygiene, according to Jairam Ramesh, the federal minister for drinking water and sanitation.

The government has now earmarked more than US$7 billion for an ambitious 10-year plan to end open defecation, with an emphasis on ensuring proper sanitation in rural areas.

The program entitled Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan - Clean India Campaign - will provide households with a subsidy of 20,000 rupees (US$400) for installing a toilet.

Government figures say that nearly 67 per cent households in rural India defecate in the open, even though official statistics say 60 percent of those households have been provided with toilets. Nearly half the country’s 1.2 billion people have no option but to defecate in the open.

"Open defecation is a national shame,” Ramesh said.

Sikkim in northeast India is the only state that has achieved ODF - Open Defecation Free - status.

Other states like Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra are on the way to achieving the sanitation goals in coming years, ministry officials said.

A multi-media campaign to support the new program will begin tomorrow. A march will also be launched in the western Indian state of Maharashtra on Wednesday.

Besides hundreds of volunteers, government representatives and NGO workers, the government has enlisted the services of popular Bollywood actress Vidya Balan to raise awareness on the importance of sanitation.

Balan said that there is no better way to serve the country. “I am fortunate to be a part of this initiative,” she said. "My family would always say you should get involved with cleanliness."

This is not for the first time that such a campaign has been launched.

On a smaller scale, the Total Sanitation Campaign was initiated in 1999 with a comprehensive program to ensure sanitation facilities in rural areas. But according to Ramesh, there was a "lot of fudging of data,” and many states took project funds but did not install toilets.

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