Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said in order to accelerate the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the Centre had gone in for a total revamp of the programme.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that the country would take at least 10 years to achieve the Nirmal Bharath status, when all the 2.4 lakh grama panchayats in the nation could be declared free of open defecation under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA).

Addressing a review meeting of the NBA’s Kerala version here on Monday, Mr. Ramesh said only 28,000 grama panchayats, constituting a mere 12 per cent, were currently declared as Nirmal Grama Panchayats. The task ahead was a huge one, given the fact that 60 per cent of the entire world’s open defecation happened in India, with around 70 per cent of the country’s women forced to resort to the routine for lack of toilets. The statistics here were higher than other countries including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said, stressing that toilets were a fundamental right for women and that to protect their privacy, pride and dignity, toilets should be made compulsory in every school, Anganwadi and home.

Stating that toilets should be made a constitutional right and compulsory too, Mr. Ramesh said no funds would be allowed under the Indira Awaz Yojana unless the intended beneficiaries had toilets.

Asserting that sanitation could not be a government programme, but instead a political programme and a social reformation campaign without being seen as a toilet construction programme by the political class,

Since there was increasing medical evidence showing that malnutrition was directly attributed to poor sanitation and non-hygienic practices as well, the scale of financial assistance under the programme to construct toilets had been hiked from Rs.3,500 to Rs.10,000 while APL and BPL distinctions were done away with. Further, a provision for solid and liquid waste management had been introduced with panchayats, depending on their population to get assistance ranging from Rs.7 lakh to Rs.20 lakh in this fiscal, with 70 per cent of the grant to come from the Centre, and the rest, from the States.

The Government was also discussing with the Bill Gates Foundation to develop new technologies, particularly for the Railways, to do away with the present system of toilets on trains while separate talks were being held with the Railways to try out the DRDO’s recently released bio-digester toilets as well.

“We are trying to propagate as many approaches as possible instead of one standard solution,” he added.