“There is a need to change people’s mindset. The cleanliness campaign is a social movement and there has been a satisfactory progress in it in the last two years. But efforts have to be scaled up to meet the target by October 2, 2019 and the process is underway,” he said.
The Science and Technology Minister was speaking at the first summit of Global Interfaith Wash Alliance (GIWA) in Leh on Monday, when he, along with Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and around 25 religious leaders from different faiths, took a pledge to address water, sanitation and hygiene-related issues.“The Modi government is committed to making India clean and step are being taken in that direction. The Prime Minister has himself said it is shameful that women have to defecate in the open and wait for darkness to settle in before they can go out to relieve themselves.
“In the last two years, a record more than two crore toilets have been built under the Clean India campaign. The Prime Minister himself monitors the situation in meetings on Wednesdays. About 4.25 lakh toilets have been constructed exclusively for girls in around 2.75 lakh schools,” he said. The minister said the campaign is not only limited to constructing toilets.
“We are using science and technology to support it. We are exploring ways to develop techniques for solid, electronic and bio-waste management,” he said. “The Indian Institute of Petroleum is finding ways to use plastic waste for producing biofuels like petrol and diesel. Similarly, the National Physical Laboratory, Delhi, is coming up with ideas to turn plastic waste into low-cost and lightweight toilets. We are using science to convert waste into wealth,” Harsh Vardhan said.
On the need of using religion as a platform to disseminate the message of adopting healthy sanitation practices, he said: “When I was the Delhi Heath Minister in 1993, for nine months on the trot, about 550 gurudwaras, 3,000 mosques and every church in the city broadcast a message, exhorting mothers to take their children to polio vaccination booths. Similarly, GIWA can be instrumental and become a mass movement.” Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation Narendra Singh Tomar said, “People do not really follow when politicians and the administration give a call for adopting healthy sanitation practices. Faith leaders can touch peoples lives in a way that governments cannot. They can influence behavior in both temples and toilets.”
He said 18 districts and 70,000 villages in the country have been declared open defecation-free (ODF) and hoped that with the efforts of all, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions will soon become ODF.
According to UNICEF India, “Leh faces several issues with regard to equitable access to water and sanitation services. In Jammu & Kashmir, 42.6 per cent of households still practice open defecation and just 33.9 per cent have improved sanitation facilities. It is lagging behind in the Swachh Bharat Mission and figures in the bottom five performing states.”
“Only 9.47 per cent of people have access to tap water from a treated source in the Ladakh region and 81 per cent of households have no drainage connectivity for wastewater outlet,” it said. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which was launched on October 2 2014, aims to eradicate open defecation in the country by 2019.
“India faces a big challenge in terms of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). People in rural areas have toilets, but they do not use them. It is because of the orthodox mindset and unawareness.This is what we are fighting,” Swami Chidanand Saraswati, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and president of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, said.
Around 25 religious leaders from all faiths took part in the GIWA summit, which discussed “ways to bringing a change in the mindset and behaviour”, at the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre here. UNICEF India provided technical expertise.