After Swachh Bharat: ?One of the Biggest Crises in 2021 India?‘80% of sanitation workers do not even reach the age of retirement’ Pragya Akh...After Swachh Bharat: ?One of the Biggest Crises in 2021 India?
‘80% of sanitation workers do not even reach the age of retirement’
Pragya Akhilesh is secretary of the Bhim Safai Karamchari Trade Union and national convener of the Rehabilitation Research Initiative. In this interview she discusses the health and sanitation hazard of toilets without water, and poorly constructed dry latrines contaminating the water supply, which she calls ‘one of the biggest crises’ in contemporary India.
Is it true that toilets have become hotbeds of disease spread in the pandemic?
The lockdown has had its own problems with decreasing toilet usage. In 2020 there was a massive decline in actual toilet usage in rural India. This is mainly because toilets are in poor shape, the roofs are falling, doors are breaking or soggy and there is an acute shortage of water supply. The outcome of this is that toilets have become hotbeds for disease spread.
Sanitation workers are cleaning these toilets without access to any kind of protection gear. The government’s silence on toilet maintenance is shocking as the ‘value of service’ is declining, and because of that all the pressure falls on sanitation workers. All through the lockdown the sanitation workers have continued this work but they have not been given their due like other health care professionals in India.
You have been monitoring 10 lakh toilets in India and found that 46,000 dry latrines were in active use during the lockdown. Why?
Despite the PEMSR Act, 2013 [Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation] its implementation in the informal settlements in the rural areas of India is completely fractured, therefore ‘dry latrines’ are one of the biggest crises in 2021 India.
These toilets damage the health of sanitation workers and the communities severely. Along the India–Bangladesh border we found a series of many ‘hanging toilets’, where the unmanaged effluents mix with nearby water bodies even polluting the drinking water. Because these areas are completely remote there is no accessible sanitation coverage.