All talk, no toi­lets

It is eas­ier for In­dia’s poor to ac­quire cell phones than gain ac­cess to proper toi­lets.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE - By RAVI NESS­MAN

It is eas­ier for poor In­dian folk to ob­tain cell phones than ac­cess to proper toi­lets.

THE Mum­bai slum of Rafiq Na­gar has no clean wa­ter for its shacks made of ripped tarp and bam­boo. No garbage pickup along the rocky, pocked earth that serves as a road. No power ex­cept from hap­haz­ard ca­bles strung over­head il­le­gally. And not a sin­gle toi­let or la­trine for its 10,000 peo­ple.

Yet nearly ev­ery des­ti­tute fam­ily in the slum has a cell phone.

In­dia is a coun­try where more peo­ple have cell phones than ac­cess to a toi­let, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. It is a coun­try buoyed by a vi­brant busi­ness world of call cen­tres and soft­ware de­vel­op­ers, but ham­strung by a bloated govern­ment that has failed to de­liver the barest of ser­vices.

Its es­ti­mated growth rate of 8.5% a year is among the high­est in the world, but its roads are crum­bling.

It of­fers cheap, world-class med­i­cal care to Western tourists at pri­vate hos­pi­tals, yet has some of the worst child mor­tal­ity and ma­ter­nal death rates out­side sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

And while tens of mil­lions have ben­e­fited from In­dia’s rise, many more re­main mired in some of the worst poverty in the world.

Busi­ness­man Mukesh Am­bani, the world’s fourth-rich­est per­son, is just fin­ish­ing off a new US$1bil (RM3.08bil) sky­scraper-house in Mum­bai with 27 floors and three he­li­pads, touted as the most ex­pen­sive home on Earth. Yet farm­ers still live in shacks of mud and cow dung.

The cell phone frenzy bridges all worlds. Cell phones are sold amid the Calvin Klein and Clin­ique stores un­der

A boy mak­ing his way to a la­trine out­side his phones than ac­cess to a toi­let. the soar­ing atri­ums of In­dia’s new malls, and in the crowded mar­kets of its work­ing-class neigh­bour­hoods. Bare shops in the slums sell pre-paid cards next to pack­ets of chew­ing to­bacco, while street hawk­ers ped­dle car charg­ers at traf­fic lights.

The spar­tan Beecham’s in New Delhi’s Con­naught Place, one of the coun­try’s seem­ingly ubiq­ui­tous mo­bile phone deal­ers, is over­run with lunchtime cus­tomers of all classes look­ing for ev­ery­thing from a 35,000 ru­pee (RM2,435) Black­berry Torch to a ba­sic 1,150 ru­pee (RM80) Nokia.

There were more than 670 mil­lion cell phone con­nec­tions in In­dia by the end of Au­gust, a num­ber that has been grow­ing by close to 20 mil­lion a month, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment fig­ures.

Yet UN fig­ures show that only 366 mil­lion In­di­ans have ac­cess to a pri­vate toi­let or la­trine, leav­ing 665 mil­lion to defe­cate in the open.

Ba­sic needs

“At least tap wa­ter and sewage dis­posal – how can we talk about any devel­op­ment with­out these two fun­da­men­tal things? How can we talk about devel­op­ment with­out health and ed­u­ca­tion?” says Anita PatilDesh­mukhl, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of PUKAR, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that con­ducts re­search and out­reach in the slums of Mum­bai.

In­dia’s lead­ers say they are sym­pa­thetic to the prob­lem. Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh, an econ­o­mist cred­ited with un­leash­ing In­dia’s pri­vate sec­tor by loos­en­ing govern­ment reg­u­la­tion, talks about growth that ben­e­fits the masses of poor peo­ple as well as a bur­geon­ing mid­dle class of about 300 mil­lion.

So­nia Gandhi, chief of the rul­ing Congress Party, has pushed laws guar­an­tee­ing a right to food and ed­u­ca­tion, as well as a gar­gan­tuan ru­ral jobs pro­gramme for nearly 100 mil­lion peo­ple. But as many as 800 mil­lion In­di­ans still live on less than US$2 (RM6.20) a day, even as Mum­bai’s stock ex­change sits near

Many fear the

“Ev­ery­body un­der­stands Ev­ery­body recog­nises gap, that this could trips up this coun­try,” Mahin­dra, vice di­rec­tor of the man­u­fac­tur­ing

Pri­vate com­pa­nies that gap, and Tata (RM52) wa­ter pu­ri­fier Mafias pro­vide slum dwellers what wealthy In­di­ans ser­vices.

“For ev­ery lit­tle pay,” says Nus­rat maid and sin­gle four chil­dren on (RM209) a month govern­ment for wa­ter and a toi­let.

The govern­ment US$350mil (RM1.078bil) toi­lets in ru­ral Pathak, the founder San­i­ta­tion and Move­ment, es­ti­mates needs about 120 – likely the largest world his­tory.

“Those in power, change the sit­u­a­tion,” claims to have low-cost la­trines past 40 years.

Makeshift la­trines

In the slums more than half 14 mil­lion, the great that en­ter­pris­ing built makeshift own.

In Annab­hau la­trine of cor­ru­gated river of sewage and adults wade east Mum­bai has

and a sin­gle 10 pay toi­lets for


A boy talk­ing on a cell phone in Mum­bai’s Rafiq Na­gar slum. (Pic right) Salim, a mi­grant labourer, mak­ing a phone call out­side his makeshift home. The cell phone frenzy bridges all classes in In­dia.

(Pic be­low) Tele­vi­sion ca­bles and a re­ceiv­ing dish are seen on the roofs of homes in a Mum­bai slum. Many of these houses have no toi­lets.

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