Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh Friday expressed concern that the government's Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) is being seen as a "token sanitation campaign" and rued that women were demanding mobile phones but not toilets.
"Women demand mobile phones, they are not demanding toilets... Sanitation is the much more difficult issue,” Ramesh said at the launch of Asia-Pacific Regional MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) Report 2011-12.
Ramesh said women's self-help groups (SHGs) should give priority to toilets rather than focusing their energies only on income-generating activities.
"The fact is toilets are used as storage godowns. Part of it (the problem) is pathetic money," Ramesh said.
He said construction of quality toilets in rural areas needs Rs.8,000 each while only Rs.3,000 is being provided under the government norms.
The minister said country was a land of paradox as it accounts for almost 60 percent of those defecating in the open but had a mobile subcriber base of over 700 million.
Ramesh also said he would also speak to film-maker Shyam Benegal to make a movie on sanitation as he had done on milk cooperatives. Ramesh noted Benegal's "Manthan" had helped popularise the concept of milk cooperatives among women.
The minister said money spent on the Total Sanitation Campaign is a "pittance" and there is a need to elevate "fiscal importance" of water and sanitation issues and look at them in an integrated way.
The TSC is being called "token sanitation campaign", he said.
The TSC is a comprehensive programme to ensure sanitation facilities in rural areas with the main objective of eradicating the practice of open defecation and ensuring a clean environment. Projects under TSC, launched in 1999, have been sanctioned in 607 districts of the country, which has a total of 640 districts.
Ramesh said that certain cultural norms were associated with open defecation, which need to be changed. "It requires efforts, requires community champions (to change habits)," he said.
Sikkim was free of open defecation and Himachal Pradesh was on the way to reach the status, he said.
The minister said if bank linkages are established for backing social infrasturcture, there will an improvement in rural sanitation.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Millennium Development Goals report said that the region has made big gains in reducing poverty and is moving fast towards other development goals but still has high levels of hunger as well as child and maternal mortality.
It said the region was unlikely to meet MDG targets related to eradicating hunger, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.