A recent survey carried out by the Directorate of Municipal Administration in Davangere district (Karnataka state) has unearthed some foul facts. There are 20 dry latrines in Harpanahalli town with at least two families involved in manual scavenging. In dry latrines, the only means of waste disposal is the manual removal of fecal matter by workers.
Yet, the district administration and Harpanahalli Town Panchayat are refusing to accept that manual scavenging is taking place in the district.
At the same time, they concede the presence of dry latrines. A few days back, Assistant Commissioner Latha Kumari made an attempt to demolish some of these. She was however, stopped by the town dwellers.
According to the women in the town, these dry latrines were "public toilets". If they were to be demolished, they would have no place to relieve themselves, they countered. "Give us modern, decent toilets if you are demolishing the dry latrines", they demanded.
The district administration feels their needs are rightly justifiable. An assurance of full-fledged modern toilets has being given to the town dwellers.
Davangere Deputy Commissioner M.B. Dyaberi calls dry latrines " a relic of the past". These latrines are not connected to drains nor are they provided with water connections. Hence, these latrines are only used but never maintained. They now remain unsightly, stinking landmarks that assault the senses.
Meanwhile the district administration and the Joint Director, Department of Municipal Administration have inspected the dry latrines in the wake of the survey report. They give that the two families rumored to be involved in manual scavenging are on the contrary, well-placed and not doing so.
The district administration has taken a decision to construct five toilets without delay in Harpanahalli. The costs are estimated at Rs.40 lakh, sanctioned under the State Finance Commission.
The task of building toilets has been handed over to the Davangere Nirmithi Kendra. Each toilet will be built at a cost of Rs. 8 lakh.
This is not all. The district administration will send a proposal to the Government to build another 15 toilets in Harpanahalli town in place of the dry latrines.
In India, more than 700 million people have no toilets in their household. They defecate in the open or in buckets. Official figures give that nearly 500,000 people die in India every year from diarrhea-related diseases. Children are especially vulnerable to gastro-intestinal diseases and worm infestations as a direct result of poor sanitation facilities.
In rural villages where the population still defecates in the open, women can relieve themselves only before sunrise or after sunset. This results in physical distress as well as women being stripped of their privacy and their dignity.
The lack of sanitation facilities in India can be put down to mainly, lack of funds. The shortage of funds needed to install sewer or septic systems is worsened by a rapidly growing population and a lack of awareness about the dangers of open-air defecation.
In caste-ridden India, scavengers, men and women who remove human waste, are still considered as untouchables - the lowest of India's social classes. Although scavenging has been outlawed in India, the practice is still widespread in urban areas, and, to a lesser extent, in the countryside. Approximately four million scavengers remain in India today.
In this context, path-breaking work has been carried out by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. He founded Sulabh International Social Service Organization , an NGO working for sanitation needs in rural areas. His organization helped design and establish the Sulabh system, an eco-friendly, efficient and affordable latrine .