More people defaecate in the open in India than any other country in the world.

Nila Madhab Panda is a film director who is shooting a film in Delhi on open defaecation in the slums. It is the story of a seven year old, Pichkoo, who is too shy to shit in public (unlike 99% of his neighbours). He is filming in an “unplanned settlement” in the middle of Delhi, Vikram Nagar. Word has got out, so political workers have been frantically slapping up posters promoting their candidates for the Delhi municipal elections this weekend. This must make the “continuity team” tear their hair out trying to get some consistency with the backdrops.

Many of the political parties have the issue of sanitation in their manifestos. Swaraj India is a party which concentrates on one issue – disposal of waste. (This is in addition to Swachh Bharat Mission, Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to improve cleanliness and sanitation as part of a five year plan.)


The political party in control of the capital upto the current election, the AAP, had plans to build 200,000 public toilets over five years. But that was when the target was one toilet seat per 50 people; the new target is one toilet per 30 people. There are 675 slums and 300,000 unplanned settlements (or jhuggis). Many people defaecate on open ground, or by railroad tracks. Some of the households have access to toilets, but they are rarely connected to the sewerage system, and waste just flows into the stormwater drains.


The old sewers are clogged with filth. There was a scandal recently when an NGO was using children orphaned by HIV to clear out drains. These pictures show drains in Chawri Bazar which were being cleaned by municipal workers.



There are 22 inefficient sewage treatment plants in Delhi, discharging waste into River Yamuna. Some parts of the river no longer sustain life, because of this coupled with industrial, agricultural and chemical effluent being dumped in the river. The Yamuna is the main tributary of the Ganges, into which flows 1.5 billion litres of untreated sewage every day. Uttarakhand State has taken the extraordinary step of declaring both rivers “human”, granting them rights as living beings.


However, one famous temple in Kerala, which is estimated to have wealth exceeding £10 billion, has been in the news recently. Sewage from the local community pours directly into the sacred temple tanks where priests ritually bathe each day. Holy sh*t might have been a better headline than filthy rich.


Earlier this year, I met someone who worked for a charity (NGO) building toilets. He said that building the toilets was easy; the problems were getting people to use them and keeping them clean, in good working order.


There are more male urinals than female toilets. So the city corporation put forward a plan for hotels and restaurants to make their facilities available for a nominal fee of five rupees (about six pence).

Flushed with success?

2 Replies to “Sanitation”

  1. Japan seems to have its priorities right. Clean drinking water and sanitation that is immaculate. It becomes everyones business.

  2. Reading this reminds of some sights I saw in Pune. I had expected those sights but I was still taken aback. For all India’s commercial and educational growth, It seems there are many basic problems to overcome.

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