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The Hindu, Editorial. Oct 9,2012

Census  2011 threw up a malodorous statistic: people in 49.8 per cent of households have  no facilities and defecate in the open. In contrast, 63.2 per cent of  households have a telephone connection, of which 52.3 per cent have cell phones;  as for televisions, almost half of the country’s households possess one. Nobody  would even whisper in protest if someone, struck by this perverse anomaly, were  to say that Indians needs toilets more than they do television sets and  telephones. So why is there such blather over some perfectly reasonable remarks  by Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh which were intended to  stress that India requires more toilets than it does more temples? His  suggestion that has more temples than toilets was not part of an  anti-religious tirade but a piece of hyperbole to stress the importance of  sanitation in a speech to panchayat-level workers at the launch of a campaign to  end open defecation. To suggest, as some have, that it was an insidious attempt  to hyphenate toilets and temples in an ugly alliterative juxtaposition is rank  nonsense.

In a  country where politics hungrily attempts to feed off prickly religious  sensitivities, Mr. ’s comments have been twisted out of context and blown  out of all proportion. BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy has alleged that such  comments would destroy the “fine fabric of religion and faith” and the fierce  chorus of protests have led the Congress to forsake principle for expedience and  distance itself from Mr. Ramesh’s remarks. Predictably, in this republic of hurt  sentiments, at least one complaint has already been lodged with the police  asking that a case be booked against him for outraging religious feelings — which, given the circumstances, reads like poor toilet humour. The only voice in  favour of Mr. Ramesh emerged from Sulabh International, an NGO committed to the  building of toilets. Organisations like these understand how vital toilets are  to the well-being of India. A World Bank study conducted a couple of years ago  estimated the economic impact of the lack of toilets and sanitation facilities,  which it pegged at a staggering Rs. 24,000 crore annually — or 6.4 per cent of  India’s GDP. This loss is created by deaths, especially of children, the cost of  treating hygiene-related illnesses, losses from reduced productivity and educed  tourism revenues. Open defecation is an ugly reminder of the country’s poverty  and the failure of the government to provide adequate water and sanitation  facilities. But it is more than a matter of shame and embarrassment — it has  social and economic implications that this country can hardly afford.

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