Even though the financial capital still has a few areas where people continue to defecate openly, this week, Mumbai was revalidated as an open-defecation free plus (ODF+) city by the Quality Council of India (QCI), a Union Government affiliated agency. However, activists and citizens have cast doubts on the criteria under which cities are declared ODF.
The QCI officially re-certified Greater Mumbai–an area of 437.7 sq km with over 1.84 crore people–as ODF+. The area includes the old island city, the western and the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, all administered by the BMC.
A QCI team toured the city to conduct a third-party inspection, survey how clean it was and to check if there was open defecation, as part of the Swachh Survekshan, a part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which ranks cities across the country on the basis of their cleanliness quotient. The team selected random spots for surprise inspections, to check if they were open defecation free (ODF). During their two day-inspection between December 18 and December 20, 2020, the team visited and inspected around 44 random locations across the city and certified all these areas as ODF+.
In its report, the QCI concluded that as on December 20, 2020, Greater Mumbai could be re-certified as ODF+, without open defecation and open urinal spots. "The civic body has worked very hard to make Mumbai litter-free and open-defecation free. As an immediate measure, mobile toilets were set up in slums that do not have adequate toilet facilities. We have repaired many toilets and painted them. Many new toilets have been constructed, while work on many is ongoing," said a BMC official.
In January 2019, the BMC had cleared proposals for 22,770 toilets in Mumbai, which were expected to be completed within 12 months. However, the BMC could complete only 4,596 of the total target. The project aimed to bring down the user-toilet ratio in community / public toilets.
Under the Slum Sanitation Plan, the BMC was supposed to build 16,703 toilets on the existing 14,173 toilet seats and an additional 6,071 toilets at new locations. After two years, the BMC has only managed to complete 4,596 toilets.
Currently, there are a total of 87,422 toilet seats in 7,212 public toilets across Mumbai. To achieve ODF++ status under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the BMC will have to complete the construction of these 22,774 toilet seats at 1,168 community / public toilets within its limits under the 'Contract Lot-11 (R)' scheme.
As per Swacch Bharat Mission directives, a ward or a city can only be declared ODF if not even a single person is found defecating in the open at any time of the day. The question of how Mumbai has been declared ODF when the desired toilet count is yet to be achieved still remains unanswered.
"I feel there is no point in questioning the exercise anymore. However, I would definitely like to study the criteria based on which ODF certification is declared. I believe, providing sanitation facilities and maintaining cleanliness is a transaction between the citizens and the government, so then why is there the need for a third-party inspection? The government can instead track citizens, through various channels, like kiosks etc.
An open and realtime dashboard can be maintained. Every year, ahead of the survey local bodies and government puts up hoardings asking citizens to rate their city. Why should this be just a one-time exercise, such ratings should be made a regular and ongoing affair. Unless we put in place a transparent system involving citizens these exercises hardly mean anything," said Milind Mhaske, project director, Praja Foundation.