A major step to make India open defecation free was taken on Thursday with the ministry of rural development headed by minister Jairam Ramesh joining hands with the ministry of defence under defence minister A.K. Antony to set up bio-digester toilets in 2.4 lakh gram panchayats in India.
The technology for these eco-friendly toilets has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and was originally used for human waste disposal for armed forces personnel deployed at high altitudes. But the technology has now been extended to suit all climates and biodigesters have been installed in various locations in J&K, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Another 12,000 biodigesters have been ordered for all houses in the 10 islands under the Lakshadweep administration. The Indian railways is also going to switchover to these toilets. Already, nine trains have been fitted with 436 such toilets and another 50,000 coaches will be retrofitted with this technology at a cost of `500 crores. apart from it being used in all the new trains.
Mr Ramesh pointed out that the cost of this massive operation will be shared between his ministry and the ministry of railways. "Eleven million passengers travel by train every day and this is an open toilet for them," he said.
Sixty per cent of the world’s open defecation takes place in India and the census 2011 has highlighted that 50 per cent of households do not have latrines from which 67 per cent are located in rural areas.
Speaking at the MoU ceremony, Mr Ramesh said, "We need to achieve civic hygiene by converting panchayats into nirmal panchayats. We continue to have 13 lakh insanitary latrines where manual scavenging is still being used.’ The positive news is that Sikkim is the first open defection free state in the country. Kerala is expected to follow suit by November this year with Himachal Pradesh and Haryana becoming defection free by early 2012.
Although the rural development ministry’s budget was half that of the `14.7lakh crore allocated to the defence ministry, Mr Ramesh believes "a synergy must develop between defence investment and civilian spinoffs".