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Down the Drain: How the Swachh Bharat Mission Is Heading for Failure (caravanmagazine.in)
89 points by Vigier on May 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

In the west a couple of hundred years ago, we used a mixture of religion and shame to achieve the transformation of behavior necessary to meet these sanitation goals.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness" was a slogan of that movement.

It took, more or less, a century to make the change. A big step in the right direction was the 1854 discovery by Dr. John Snow that removing the handle from a public water pump in London could slow a cholera pandemic. The well was contaminated by human feces. Steven Johnson wrote it up in his book The Ghost Map.


A board of church directors (a vestry) owned that pump, and Dr. Snow had to talk them into approving his plan. It wasn't easy: he was denying the conventional pious wisdom of the time. But they went for it.

Then cleaning up cities required major advances in civil engineering technology: things we take for granted today in the west, like interceptor sewers and and treatment plants.

Whether or not PM Modi is a politician who toots his own horn is irrelevant to this project. Its benefits will outlast everyone alive today. Go for it, India!

Interesting points!

I can't quite remember where I came across this (most likely in a TED talk), and details I can recollect are very vague but here is a horrifying tidbit from history:

In those days, apparently people used to collect excreta in some form of bins, and dump it out in the streets. People used to drop it from multi floor buildings also :(

It was mentioned that if a man is taking a woman on date, while walking in the street he has to keep the woman on the side of the street; While the man himself is walking on the side of the buildings (imagine man, woman walking hand in hand, side by side). Why? in case someone throws unpleasant things from a window above, it is the man who will take the (s)hit.

Sorry if it is unbelievably outrageous, but apparently that was our past :(

TFA says this:

> “widespread open defecation in rural India is not attributable to relative material or educational deprivation, but rather to beliefs, values, and norms about purity, pollution, caste and untouchability that cause people to reject affordable latrines.”

Would someone kindly explain this to me?

The numbers in India are staggering, but I was even more blown away by the news that Bangladesh managed to get open defecation down from 44% in 2003 to 1% today.


The UN estimated that 65,000 tonnes of uncovered, untreated faeces—equal to the weight of around 180 Airbus A380s—were being introduced into the environment in India every single day.

This is an issue of mind boggling scale.

I am sure that Airbus management is delighted with their best plane being associated with huge piles of shit.

India has definitely a problem with this - it was the only country I was warned about to never drink or eat anything outside of the hotel from friends that had traveled all around the world.

In the Sheraton the water was crystal clear - I think they had in house water plant. In the tech park next to it - it was yellow.

In Mumbai, bout 15 years ago we had a 'hotel boy', he came in every morning and evening and swept the balcony clean of the day's accumulated soot. People shitting, pissing and spitting in the street everywhere, all the time. A jarring experience.

I'll tell you one thing for sure, if ever the world gets wiped out by some global pandemic, the last man standing will be and Indian, pissing in the street.

Don't give this rubbish and fake facts. You make it sound like majority of Indians are okay living in a shit hole.

For those who don't know what India's prime minister is doing, please read this. It is just part of Swachh Bharat Mission - https://www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Indias-War-on-Human-W...

It's interesting to juxtapose Bill Gates' report with the much more detailed and first-hand one linked here.

Without having more certainty than is warranted, it seems plausible that Bill Gates took Prime Minister Modi's word at face value, even though it was apparently all political bluster, and he should not have.

Now, if it were contaminated water in mandir's offering to the devotees, the same party would be falling over themselves to proclaim it is pristine and then hound the health officials no end, branding them as unpatriotic,closet Pakistani etc etc. So it goes.

This thread is a display of the lack in self respect many Indians have. Their public humiliation of the country that they live in, that they're right now eating their food and breathing their air in. No, it does not help anyone let alone yourself if you think your experiences are true account for everyone else and what you're saying reflects your stupidity, you don't deserve a chance nor a better life because the moment something wrong happens, you will be back to blaming the system, you don't even contribute to making it better so what gives you the right to spin lies here? If this was Facebook I would have ensured the public authorities would come to attention and have the police knock on your door. So before you comment, think. think if what you're going to say is useful at all and then do it. Part of me hopes that you're doing it because you don't want more whites to come here and take your jobs but I am familiar with the tone you complain like a 12 year old that it is simply not the case. HN needs moderators to put away these children.

Police should knock on our doors? Moderators should "put away these children"?

You're in the wrong place here. A look at your comment history tells me you already know this.

The whole of india is like a giant trash can. Indian here.

How does this add value to this discussion ? Indian here too :)

As a foreigner, this anecdotal opinion helps me to understand Indian mindset.

There is nothing anecdotal here. It was a way to summarize the problem we have at large. As the comment above describes how he lives surrounded by garbage. That's how the whole country is unfortunately.

Unfortunately, this is how a lot Indians feel good about themselves, cuckoldry. Its a really strange behavior

By stating a hard fact?

There are two open plots of land on both sides of my house and its filled with garbage from neighbours using it as open air trashcan. I've knocked at the door of every single neighbour's apartment and told them about it but to no avail. Now we live between two giant trash bins filled with garbage. To make the matters worse some enterprising urban pig farmers are using it to feed their pigs, they let them out in the garbage and come pick them up at night.

It's quite embarrassing to explain random pig squeals on conference calls with US colleagues. I hate India so much. I love India so much.


Urban pig farmers? Are you sure youre not making this whole thing up? Youre living in the country side. Maybe that's all you need to say.

What is an urban pig farmer?

I don't understand enough about how Indian government works to answer this question: Why can't they lay down sewers and water supplies in urban areas, at least to start with?

Massive corruption at all levels.

I'll give you an example: the Delhi municipal corporation, the local body responsible for all civil work in the country's capital, has more employees than the Indian Air Force.

A municipal body has more employees than the country's entire Air Force.

Of these, nearly half of employees are "ghost" employees. They don't exist except on paper. Their wages go into the pockets of the local politicians and employees.

India's corruption is mind boggling.

To be fair, New York City also has more municipal employees than the United States Air Force has active-duty personnel.

461,500 local NYC government employees - https://www.labor.ny.gov/stats/cesemp.asp

456,452 USAF personnel (315,725 AD airmen, 140,727 civilian employees) - http://www.afpc.af.mil/Air-Force-Demographics/

Corruption creates problems, but whining about it doesn't solve any. This open defecation habit hasn't been born out of corruption. It's been there for ages. Corruption does come in the way of solving the problem, if at all there are any such initiatives.

Once the anti-national Supreme Court accedes to making Aadhar mandatory, India will be corruption free. Just you wait. /s

Simple. Money!

The problem isn't so simple. If throwing money could solve the problem, it would have already been solved. The problem is that laying sewers or installing water supplies involved dealing with the local population and make them understand why it is important that the roads are dug and the sewers installed. Why should the population spend money to connect their house to the sewer?

Also, this takes planning at the city level because, once laid, the sewer needs to connected to a larger pipes so that the waste may be transferred somewhere else. Now, people living in the other area need to be convinced that their fellow humans need the sewers and their roads should be dug up.

The roads being dug up is a placeholder for infrastructure work related to installing pipes. As long as people don't see it as a serious problem, they will try to avoid the inconvenience of installing sewers.

This is just the cynic in me, but sometimes I think politicians let it be a problem so that they can use it in the next election season.

Do people living in slums who are literally shitting in the street really have the political clout to participate in NIMBYism?

SF-isms (I understand NIMBY is also used outside SF) don't map perfectly across oceans.

Suffice it to say that people living in slums in India can have a lot of political clout. For example, once a large slum pops up in an urban area, literally no one dares to lawfully remove it, for fear of losing the next local election.

Brushing aside the elite paternalism typical of HN, spare a thought for these people would go through were they not as organized.

Indeed! There was an instance in Bangalore not so long ago where the muncipality swooped in and destroyed a few houses with ~10 minutes notice[1]. In the atomized world that is the Indian middle class, no one really gave a fk.

Perhaps the Indian society can't find commonalities to organize beyond tribes (aka 'jati' 'caste'). Of course it's not really 'caste' since the grouping is voluntary, but who are you going to shout at about etymology (the epistemology of an Indian means exactly nothing just so you know).


[1] Conveniently those belonging to public figures (politicians, actors..) were given a pass.

Our governments are in no position to pour money into educating people/changing their habits. All the planning that you mentioned needs money that we don't have(OR politicians don't want to spend)

Simple. Authorities desire to do their job is more related to success than financial resources.

India - what I saw from going there was enclaves of prosperity surrounded with barbed wires, 4 meter walls and private army guards. And not a nice places to live everywhere else.

If the authorities and well off does not view the citizens as one of them it is hard to get anything done.

Quick question. How is the issue of human waste processing done in large scale temporary human accommodations such as a military forward operations base or a large scale construction township?

Would it have the necessary sewage handling/treatment facilities built first or are there temporary systems that can handle a sudden surge in the generation of human waste away from any pre-existing sewage treatment facilities?

You dig a hole. A deep hole. Away from water supplies. And then you shit in the hole: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pit_latrine

This is a very old post!!

Its the current cover story report of Caravan magazine. How old it could be?

Please do not stereotype India. India is a very huge country. Not every part of India is the same especially with cleanliness.

Kerala is a small state in India with the highest literacy level. There is no open defecation in Kerala. Infact if you read about Kerala, you will be very surprised how different it is from the rest of India.


Yeah sure about it, which is why they do everything they can to seep into Bangalore and migrate here so they can throw their trash here. If its so good, just go back.

Sure about what ? 'they do everything' what ? migrate where ? go back where ?

I have no idea what you mean. Care to explain a bit ?

If you're not a Malyali, why are you shilling for them? AFAIK they are a clan who only give a shit about each other.

I don't think this is a forum for these kinds of discussions. Please be more civilized about it. Ironically, your handle has "shit" on it.

Why is this surprising ? Modi entire term has been him acting too impulsively, either for PR or by being misguided by his advisors.

I mean the man has no dignity; who brings up these issues publicly on an international forum ?

Running water is not something you come across rural India very often. Toilets are bound to stink. NO person in his right mind would use one.

This one move has even brought back manual scavenging jobs back to the poor who have little access to education or power (literally and figuratively). Skilling India, eh ?

Shaming your citizens for the complete uselessness of the state becomes "statesmanship" ? Is this guy some colonial governor ? Frankly, Modi is a disappointment to everyone.

Worse, his and the stupidity of his promoters will almost entirely destroy the credibility of the nativist camp which supported him, for decades to come.

BJP has lived up to its name: Congress with a Cow (which is then smuggled to the Butcher).

To be honest, I think the important thing is to keep India clean, I do not care what type of prime minister has or what his personal beliefs are, whether he is a devout hindu, muslim or christian doesn't matter. But I liked the idea of a cleaner India, the fact that the campaign is not working is a reflection on our own society. There are millions of jobs out there for the masses just in cleaning the roads of our cities. Building sewers can generate another large amount of jobs, both skilled and unskilled. In the 1800s the whole of chicago was lifted up using hydraulic jacks, block by block just to lay sewers for people.

Providing toilets is important which is why it has to be brought to the forefront. If running water is an issue in rural India, what about the cities? We are not providing sanitation for city dwellers itself, just look at the large number of slums - do they have running water? In Jaipur I have seen whole streets flooded with feces from the shanty towns in the suburbs.

The problem is not only with a dysfunctional government but a culture where bribery is accepted. Practically anywhere you tried to buy a home in the past people would ask for cash in suitcases just to avoid taxation. If a driver gets caught by the police for a traffic offence, the rich just send money down. In this society you blame the government? Isn't a government made up of its own people? Today in a developed nation one does not seperate the rich from the poor. A cleaner's son and a politicians son attend the same school and can become best friends without segregation. In India on the other hand the rich must send their children to private institutions while the government schools can't function properly thanks to lack of funding. And, oh the way the rich spend, particularly on their weddings. What kind of example are they setting for the poor? It is entirely possible today to have water free toilets which do not stink. In Singapore there are many such toilets and I've seen prototypes round the world that do not stink, everything is possible. Its just about the mindset.

> If running water is an issue in rural India, what about the cities?

They generally don't either. Overhead tanks were not all that common until of late even in the middle class.

Occupy Hacker News in a few hours. Bhakts are everywhere. Still can't digest the fact how they conquered Quora. Hope they stay away from your post :)

Please forgive my ignorance -- who are the Bhakts? I've been off Quora since the interesting questions disappeared about two years ago.

Bhakths are devotees of Modi. "Bhakth" in Hindi/Sanskrit means devotee. They are like the die hard Trump fans in the US.

They usually come in hordes and attack any content against Modi on the web usually by unethical tactics like questioning your character/love for country, down-voting, mass reporting, abusing and general trolling - whatever it takes to shut the critics up.

Modi is part human and part mythical figure for the Bhakths - I kid you not :).

> They usually come in hordes and attack any content against Modi on the web usually by unethical tactics like questioning your character/love for country, down-voting, mass reporting, abusing and general trolling - whatever it takes to shut the critics up.

This. And to add a bit, it is a little-kept secret that many/most are paid workers, hired to carry out those activities.

Thank you! You've provided a little more context to the Internet today!

Lets not forget why this man was denied visa to US in 2005.

"In 2005, Modi, an ardent Hindu nationalist and rising political star, was denied a U.S. visa over accusations that he failed to stop religious pogroms in which hundreds were killed, mostly Muslims, in the Indian state where he was serving as chief executive. That decision to bar him now seems like ancient history in both countries. "


For the sake of historical accuracy, he was a 'persona non grata' not just in the US but also in some 27 EU member countries and in several other countries around the world:


He is so obviously agenda driven and is abusing a lot of people with his use of derogatory remarks. He got away with it because, not many people here have the full context of his abuse.

I will leave you with this TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a...

Never build your worldview with what is provided by a hate-filled single sided opinion.

I understand why you may not like Modi, but he his what's good for India.

Care to explain how? His highest priorities appear to be 1) to bolster his ego and 2) to gain more popularity/consolidate his political position (usually with cheap-ish speeches, stunts, gimmicks etc.) while everything else takes a backseat. Seriously doubt if that is good for India.

India is so big that centralization of power is impossible. But thats what is needed right now. We need to be yanked into 21St century. Only way to that is through charisma, because democracy and all.

> India is so big that centralization of power is impossible. But thats what is needed right now.

Sounds scary beyond description.

> We need to be yanked into 21St century. Only way to that is through charisma

So, getting 'yanked into 21st century' (whatever that is supposed to mean) would magically wipe out all the problems of the country (using charisma as a wand) - is that what you're saying?

Seems to be working for China.

And thus, a Modi bhakt is revealed. For those not from India, one of the standard characteristics of a dyed-in-the-wool Modi bhakt (devotee) is that the moment you say something against him (Modi), you are an anti-national.

> We need to be yanked into 21St century.

By a party whose sister organisation, the proto-fascist RSS is obsessed with taking India back to the the "glorious Hindu days" centuries ago?

You can't shame us way from being proud of our heritage.

Age-old RSS modus operandi - when you can't argue a point, try to drive away from it, by bringing up a quasi-related nationalist issue.

> Worse, his and the stupidity of his promoters will almost entirely destroy the credibility of the nativist camp which supported him, for decades to come.

Apparently not a 'colonized liberal' either. RSS et.al were similarly distraught during Vajpayee's time. Some even claim that one of reasons BJP didn't get a second term was because the RSS field workers were so disillusioned in '04.

I hope the government at least partially reaches its goals.

There are obviously infinite possible approaches to the problem. This is how I'd solve it if I were the government:

Set up collecting points and pay a generous sum per gallon of poo.

The challenge would be to avoid fraud, but inspection combined with occasional random audits and penalties might work. Or issuing tokens for using the latrine.

This reminds me of this crazy Korean animated film called aachi and ssipak where the government payed people in addictive candies for their waste, which it used to produce electricity.

Like that film I would imagine the incentives would have unintended side effects, like encouraging more manual scavenging. I think the money is better spent on infrastructure and public outreach. The problem doesn't seem as much that people want to relieve themselves outside, but that it is the best option available to them right now.

The free market works well generally, why not here? To try to reverse generations of social tradition where only "lower" people are involved with waste, the govt. should really pay high rates for waste, which would work to reverse this tradition by elevating the social status of the workers involved.

You miss the point in any case. By paying for waste delivered (and perhaps tokens to minimize fraud), you would create a cottage industry of portable toilets, and solve the problem with one simple policy.

Another incentive based strategy would be to make cash bonuses to local officials based on the fraction of residents in their district actually used toilets. This could be measured by randomized surveys and spot checks.

All problems can be improved with properly designed financial incentives.

It might not be a bad idea for the Indian government to start with open defecation toilets that collect raw sewerage for processing. A large part of the problem in slums is the issue of safety in confined units like public toilets.

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