India might be an emerging economic giant. Sensex might be shooting past 21,000. The vibrant middle class might never have had it so good.
But the fact remains that such a basic thing as hygienic toilets are beyond the reach of millions of Indians.
Now a social activist has approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the government to implement total sanitation campaign for urban areas under the 11th Five-Year Plan.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal Monday issued notice to the federal government on a petition filed by Prabhakar Deshpande of Mumbai, who personally argued his case. He quoted Jawaharlal Nehru, who had said: "The day every one of us gets a toilet to use, I shall know that our country has reached the pinnacle of progress."
The petitioner said: "The sad tragedy is that while building toilets does not require great technology or enormous funds, Indians shamelessly defecate in public even in metros, even as most Indians flaunt expensive mobile phones."
He said the total sanitation campaign should be extended to urban areas. The total project outlay in rural areas was Rs. 13,423 crore but owing to tardy implementation, only Rs. 3,419 crore was spent on the sanitation campaign. Lack of sanitation "leads to poor health and spread of various diseases, and compromises on the dignity and modesty of people."
The petitioner sought a direction to implement the total sanitation campaign at a cost of Rs. 20,000 crore.
Some 2.6 billion people -- more than 40 percent of the globe's population -- still do not have access to hygienic toilets that do not pollute water or soil, according to UN figures. More than half of them live in India and China.
Children, highly susceptible to hygiene-related diseases, are the main victims.
'Diarrhea resulting from poor sanitation and hygiene is responsible for the death of more than two million impoverished children each year,' the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said during the World Water Week conference in August last year.