Every day barring Sunday around 10 AM the garbage collector’s whistle at our entrance gate announces his presence and a call for Bahadur to fetch the household garbage and deposit it in his cycle barrow. Thereafter the garbage thus collected from the 40 odd houses in the enclave moves to its central destination from the enclave collection center. The houses and the surroundings thus remain clean and tidy. The central sewerage system  takes care of the effluent disposal and household waste water. Nothing new has been stated, so far;  a common occurrence in most colonies and establishments where a body of people organize to look after their occupants.

The story is different when the individual habitats are to fend for themselves; the local boards or corporations who are elected to provide the wherewithal and the services are busy doing nothing. We need to go back and learn from our ancestors. The earliest evidence of urban sanitation was seen in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. Their urban plan included the world’s first urban sanitation systems. Within the city, individual homes or groups of homes obtained water from wells. From a room that appears to have been set aside for bathing, waste water was directed to covered drains, which lined the major streets. Roman cities and Roman Villas had elements of sanitation systems, delivering water in the streets of towns such as Pompeii, and building stone and wooden drains to collect and remove waste water from populated areas. However there is little record of sanitation in most of Europe until late Middle Ages. Unsanitary conditions and overcrowding were widespread throughout Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages, resulting periodically in cataclysmic pandemics such as the Plague (541-42) and the Black Death (1347–1351), which killed tens of millions of people and radically altered societies.

Very high infant and child mortality prevailed in Europe throughout medieval times, due to deficiencies in sanitation and this is happening today in most African and some Asian countries. Diarrhea plays a significant role, most of the affected are young children below the ages of five, most notably by diarrhea and intestinal worm infections. This also leads to malnutrition and stunted growth in the children. Open defecation is a leading cause of diarrhea death; 2,000 children under the age of five die every day, one every 40 seconds, from diarrhea.

In most of our villages even now agriculture fields are littered with human defecates and fracas from the early morning visits of the inhabitants. The open spaces along the railway tracks provide an unseemly sight of hordes of men and women easing themselves with impunity and heedlessness. A child defecating in an open drain is a common disturbing presence in most of the older downtown areas. The sewer effluent from within the residences dropping into the open drains outside, mixing with surface water flowing towards and finishing at its final destination, a pond, a lake, a river, or even the sea are sources of  waterborne diseases, the garbage lying for weeks at the garbage dumps, fermenting and smelling, with swarm of flies partaking their meals from it before entering the nearest house, shop or hotel, make urinating openly on the boundary or external walls, spitting on the floor and throwing litter,  pale into lesser evils.

Do we find a similar spectacle and condition in other countries with whom we compare ourselves in various spheres? How do they manage their population and the system? How have they overcome this health and hygiene problem? Over the last sixty years several half hearted attempts have been made through sporadic drives, but with meager success. The conversion to dry sanitation in certain pockets has marginally reduced manual scavenging.

The new colonies and houses in the urban and semi urban areas that have come up in the recent past have the sanitation issue sorted out, they all have proper toilets and sewage disposal systems. This could be partly the general awakening of the residents and partly the enforcement of norms. But the old city and poorer slum sections of the urban areas and the rural backward areas where the density of the population remains high, organised sanitation does not exist. Perhaps the authorities have either no clue or the gumption. A toilet with commode connected to a septic tank with soak well where ever possible can be considered for these areas. Open drains to carry only surface water from rainfall and not from individual houses; waste water from residences should find their way into the soil below. Finding ways and means to keep the environment and the area clean and healthy is no rocket science, it is for a normal citizen to practice and those in authority to facilitate and enforce.

We are into the festive season presently. We see and hear every other day different important issues propagated with elan and enthusiasm; will they ever be resolved ?  It reminds of the ‘phuljhari’ which burns ever so bright but abruptly fizzles out! Is the cleanliness and hygiene movement like the phuljhari in this festive season?

Do we have to buy foreign toilets and earmark over ten thousand crores for the corporate sector to make us clean and hygienic?