India in last 3 in EPI Index

By Karan Beniwal

India ranked an extremely poor 177 out of the 180 countries on the Global Environment Performance Index (EPI) of 2018. The result was borne out of India’s unsuccessful attempts to improve its air quality, protect its biodiversity, and better manage its water needs.

Shailendra Singh, an organic food businessman, believes this low ranking is a wake-up call to the government and to all Indians. He said, “In the wake of these results, we as Indian’s should be extremely conscious of the fragile state of our environment.” He added, “Now is the time the government should rethink its strategies to improve our environment and we citizens must abide verbatim to those laws.”

The current state of water and sanitation in India
Particularly, the need for clean water and sanitation is a looming crisis. According to the data collected by the 2018 State of Environment (SoE) report under the Centre for Science and Enviornment (CSE), the current state of our water and sanitation practices across the country is at a very nascent stage:
1 With the launch of the ‘Har Ghar Yojana’ in 2015, the central government promised to provide tapped water to all Indian households by 2030
2 However, improper management and inconsistent penetration into the rural households, has left the program fall short of reaching 82% of the households
3 A further problem with the rotting state of groundwater in and around Delhi NCR has forced a total of 47.
4 The heavily debated on ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ started by the Prime Minster in 2014, had high ambitions to construct and revamp the face of Indian toilets.
5 However, running into its final year, the program has seen little success in making India an open-defecation free country.
6 Though the government boasts a remarkable 72.1 million individual toilets constructed, they have failed to popularize their use, rendering the program ineffective in rural India.

What is India’s next effort?
The government of India has understood the problem and has begun to re-strategize their approach.

In the month of January 2019, a report by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) addressed the month-long “Swachh Sundar Shauchalya” campaign, launched on the 1 st of January, to mobilize households to paint their toilets and give them a facelift. This aimed to promote sustained usage, increase the sense of ownership, ensure high quality, and to improve the visibility of toilets in rural areas. The campaign was led by the State government and district administrations and involved all the rural communities in the 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats across the country. By the end of the campaign, the States had reported a total of 1.34 crore toilets painted.

Quoting the same report of the workings of the MDWS, the recently concluded Kumbh Festival at Prayagraj was deemed the ‘cleanest’, with a combined total of 1,22,500 public toilets and 20,000 dustbins installed in the mela area. A further 1500 ‘Swachhagrahis’ from different districts of Uttar Pradesh had been deployed in the area to ensure usage of toilets and cleanliness. They were also undertaking a massive behavior change campaign 24X7 at the festival towards the adoption of safe sanitary habits.

Among the many voices for options to change our state, Shalini Gupta, an environment lawyer at the Delhi High Court, offered the idea of an intervention by the judicial systems to help institutionalize these practices and schemes. Reflecting on a case, Shalini said, “In 1980, in a small village of Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court explicitly recognised the impact of a deteriorating urban environment on the poor. The judgement linked basic public health facilities to human rights and compelled the municipality to provide proper sanitation and drainage. That’s the way it should be”.

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