Guwahati Declared Open Defecation Free; But Slums Show A Contradictory Picture
The recently released Akshay Kumar starrer Bollywood film Toilet – Ek Prem Katha raised a major issue of open defecation in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Where Guwahati is concerned, it was recently declared open-defection-free (ODF) by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The urban local body has decided to slap penalties on citizens violating the cleanliness norms. Prior to the GMC’s claim, the Kamrup Metro district administration had also claimed that the district is ODF. But how far is this true? What are the criteria of the Swachh Bharat Mission according to which the city can be declared as ODF? What is the scenario of garbage collection? Can the city be considered as swachh now? G Plus checks out.
Mayor Mrigen Sarania said in a press conference that after going through reports collected by the various GMC Councillors, Area Sabha Members as also surveys conducted in schools, colleges and different institutions, the GMC arrived at the decision of declaring the municipal area of the city as open-defecation-free. A notification in this regard was published in newspapers on 18th July for opinions and feedback from different stakeholders. He said that as they did not receive any objections, they decided to move ahead with the initiative to ensure Guwahati’s place among the cleanest cities of India. In order to improve cleanliness standards in cities, the Ministry of Urban Development started the Swachh Survekshan survey, by ranking cities on cleanliness and other aspects of urban sanitation. In order to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary, India has pledged to become open-defecation-free and clean by 2nd October, 2019, i.e. within 2 years from now.
According to the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India guidelines, all the necessary conditions on infrastructure and regulations have to be fulfilled by the city authorities. Following the fulfilment, a declaration has to be obtained from all wards of the city/town, without exception, declaring respective wards as ODF. Every school in a ward provides a self-declaration that all students enrolled in it have access to and are routinely using toilets at home and at school. Every self-help group active in a ward gives a declaration that all residents of that ward have access to and are routinely using toilets at home. After the declarations the city’s municipal administration may pass a preliminary declaration about the city being ODF. The guidelines said that a suitable public announcement may be made for the same as well. The public opinion and feedback should be invited with a 15-day timeline and if no substantial objections are received at the end of this time period, a final resolution can be adopted by the city municipal administration and the same can be communicated to the respective state governments. According to a highly placed source in GMC, all these guidelines were followed by the urban local body and the declarations were obtained from schools, colleges, councillors, area sabha members, self help groups and accordingly the announcement was made.
The other facts
The NDA government after coming to power rolled back Rajiv Awas Yojna and announced a new housing policy for slums. “Housing for All by 2022” under the Sardar Patel National Mission for Urban Housing was the new housing scheme. But according to media reports reviewing the earlier model of this flagship programme, then known as the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), a Standing Committee on Urban Development, in its report, had noted that the programme had failed to take off for lack of proper planning. In 2012, GMC under RAY, with the help of NGOs, conducted a survey to find out the slum areas and proved that there were 217 slum areas in the city. Other data was also collected and the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) was contacted to prepare a plan of action for a slum-free city. The ASCI was working on it and the plan was prepared within a few months. The ASCI also conducted a research in 2014 and discovered that there were just 164 slums in the city and the rest did not exist. These existing areas had a population of 90,344 with a total of 18,427 households. G Plus visited some slum areas in the city and discovered that the slum areas located adjacent to the railway tracks do not have community toilets and many people living in those areas till now continue to defecate in the open. A slum dweller at Gate No. 3 near Fancy Bazar, talking to G Plus, said that all the houses in that area do not have toilets and many people still defecate in the open along the railway tracks early in the morning. On questioning GMC in this regard, the source said that according to MoUD guidelines, the slums along the railway tracks cannot be developed by the urban local body as these are illegal settlements and the Railways keep evicting the area from time to time. So except these areas all other areas in the city are ODF. Hence, GMC can now claim that the city is ODF. But is it clean?
The garbage collection
After Ramky, the GMC hired 31 NGOs in 2014 to collect garbage from door to door and initially the urban local body claimed that the initiative was a success. G Plus has, in the last three years, raised the issue many times that the garbage does not get collected on a daily basis from households and business establishments in many areas. The contracts of these 31 NGOs expired two months ago and now the tendering process is going on for selecting 58 NGOs. The GMC source said that GMC has realised that there are many wards which encompass bigger areas. So they have identified those wards which will require 2 NGOs and some wards will require even 3 NGOs. Ward numbers 1, 4, 5, 12, 22 and 17 will get 2 NGOs from 1st September, ward numbers 26 and 31 will get 3 NGOs and the rest of the wards will get 1 NGO each. The source also said that in some areas, garbage collection does not happen on a daily basis because of poor road conditions and even the NGOs have less manpower to manage all the households under their ward within a single day. Residents of many areas have time and again complained to G Plus that the garbage collection process is not smooth as NGOs in some areas collect garbage after 5 to 6 days compelling such households to dispose their garbage in the drains, other empty places or wetlands. The GMC source said that the 58 new NGOs which will be hired will solve such issues because the wards are divided accordingly so that the NGOs can easily collect garbage from every household on daily basis. The source also said that there is a requirement of Rs 60 lakhs every month to collect garbage from every household but the GMC gets only Rs 25 lakhs monthly from the households as garbage collection fees. The source said therefore all the amenities do not get provided to the NGOs on time.
The GMC might claim that the city is cleaner now with no open defecation and a new garbage collection system, but it is ironical to say that even after three years the garbage does not get collected from every household on a daily basis. Also the slums along the railway tracks which are very much part and parcel of the city still have open defecation issues. So how can the city be declared as open defecation-free?
• City authorities claim Guwahati is open defecation free
• GMC sources say that they have followed all the MoUD guidelines before declaring the city ODF
• The GMC collected ODF declarations from schools, colleges, councillors, area sabha members, self-help groups etc
• There are 164 slum areas in the city
• G Plus visited many slum areas and discovered that the slum areas along the railway tracks still have open defecation issues
• On questioning GMC, it said that according to the guidelines railway slums are illegal settlements which are evicted from time to time and urban local body cannot make community toilets there
• Meanwhile GMC is set to hire 58 new NGOs for door-to-door garbage collection from 1st September
• Residents of many areas said that garbage does not get collected on a daily basis