Saturday, October 08, 2016

Is Ahmedabad open defecation free? Evidence suggests otherwise, wide prevalence of manual scavenging

A manual scavenger cleans up dry toilet in Ahmedabad
By Our Representative
Amidst Gujarat's business capital, Ahmedabad, all set to be “officially” declared open defecation free (ODF) on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's arrival in the city on October 17 for the World Kabaddi Festival, the Gujarat Safai Kaamdar Adhikar Andolan (GSKAA) has collected 50-odd video footages and hundreds of photographs across the city to call it a bluff. 
Collected over three days, October 2 – the day on which Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani declared “urban areas”, including Mahatma Gandhi's birthplace Porbandar, as ODF – October 5 and on October 7, the video footages and photographs have been submitted to the Ahmebabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to "prove" that the government's claims are false.
A new collective of activists working with manual scavengers, GSKAA's evidence is mainly from five areas Juna Vadaj, Shankar Bhuvan, Nagori Vad, Mirzapur and Narol, where slum-dwellers defecate in the open, and sanitation workers manually clean it up. 
Going into the open on Oct 5
“This is an open violation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, which came into force on December 6, 2013”, says GSKAA's Jitendra Rathod, the chief campaigner against the despicable practice which was termed “shame of the nation” by Gandhi.
“The Act bans manual scavenging and considers employing manual scavengers a criminal, non-bailable offence, yet there is nothing to suggest that Ahmedabad's authorities, as also of the 117 towns 'declared' ODF, are keen to implement it. Dry latrines, similarly, are banned, as they would require manual scavenging. They exist in scores in the name of baby toilets”, Rathod says.
In one video footage, the caretaker of a public toilet in a slum area is heard saying, “There are just six latrines in the public toilet for a population of 6,000. How do you expect people to use public toilets. People, including women, go in the open, and sanitary workers are made to clean it up, sometimes in the wee hours, at 3.00 in the morning.”
A woman manual scavenger tells the GSKAA team, which visited a large number of areas to point out that Ahmedabad is far from being ODF, that as a sanitary worker she not only cleans up toilets “but also the footpath on which people defecate in the open early in the morning, before sunrise.”
The Gujarat government's effort to showcase Ahmedabad as ODF began on May 25. On that day, an advertisement put up in a vernacular daily sought objections from 34 wards, which the AMC wished to declare ODF. This was followed by another advertisement, which “declared” another 12 spots as ODF.
“We handed over colour 54 photographs as proof of the prevalence of open defecation”, says Rathod, adding, “We also told them that, by adding up the number of toilets, Ahmedabad does not become ODF. You require water and drainage connections to make the toilets work.”
A woman manual scavenger in Ahmedabad
Asking the Gujarat government to “withdraw” any effort it may have made to declare Ahmedabad ODF under the Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan, Rathod said, “During a tele-conversation with senior AMC officials, they admitted that there was open declaration. However, when we said the state government should withdraw its efforts, this was not taken kindly.”
Rathod says, “Our survey suggests that there are 200 spots in Ahmedabad where open defecation takes place. We have complete list of these spots, and have even handed it over the state government on June 25, 2016. Yet there is little effort to come to grips with this.”

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