No room for development

Published : Apr 20, 2012 00:00 IST

Inside a one-room dwelling in Mumbai. As many as 32 per cent of urban Indians live in one-room households, says the survey.-REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI

Inside a one-room dwelling in Mumbai. As many as 32 per cent of urban Indians live in one-room households, says the survey.-REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI

The housing and houselisting census data do not paint a rosy picture of India in terms of basic amenities for its households.

The data on household amenities and assets, released recently by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, are a stark reminder of the immense disparities that exist in India in terms of basic entitlements such as electricity, sanitation facilities, proper drainage, and clean drinking and bathing water. The houselisting and housing census was carried out between April and September 2010.

The report lists India as a country with 0.6 million villages; 7,933 towns; 4,635 ethnic groups with 80,000 segments, synonyms and titles; 6,661 mother tongues; 18 languages; and 2,875 religious and other persuasions. The survey data underscore what economists and others have been saying repeatedly that India lives in its villages and, that too, not under very good conditions. The survey found out that much of India lived in one-room households with mud flooring, used bicycles for transport, burnt firewood for fuel, did not have a separate kitchen (31 per cent), had no access to safe drainage, used open latrines, and did not have access to a computer. A little less than 50 per cent of the population did not have access to water within its premises. Though the data record qualitative and quantitative improvement in some of the indices since the last census, the figures are far from satisfactory. The improvement, if any, has been only marginal. For instance, there was a decline in the proportion of households using grass, thatch, mud, bamboo or wood for roofing, but 46.5 per cent of households still used mud as flooring material. The choice of flooring definitely not driven by ecological concerns but by an inability to afford any other material. The proportion of households using floor tiles and mosaic stood at 10.8 per cent.

As many as 39.4 per cent of households in rural India and 32.1 per cent in urban India had only one room; only 2.8 per cent of households on an average had six rooms or more. One-room households appeared to be the norm, while households with two rooms (31.7 per cent) formed the second largest chunk. In other words, most of India lived in households with either one room or two rooms.

Access to clean water

The importance of clean drinking water and its connection to morbidity and mortality are well known. The census data show that some 87 per cent of households used tap, tube well, handpump or covered well water. But only 32 per cent used tap water from treated sources and only 47 per cent had a source of water within their premises.

Nearly 8 per cent of urban households and 22.1 per cent of rural households were dependent on water sources away from their premises. As many as 36 per cent of households fetched water from a source located within 500 metres in rural areas and 100 m in urban areas. Some 18 per cent fetched drinking water from a source located at a distance of more than 500 m in rural areas and 100 m in urban areas. Some 11.6 per cent of households drank or used untreated water.

Another interesting fact with regard to water is on the availability of bathing facilities. Though there was an improvement of almost 22 percentage points in this regard over the last census, only 42 per cent of households had some kind of a bathing facility. Or, more than half of the households in India still did not have or own a bathing facility.

Even in urban India, the picture was not so bright; only 77.5 per cent of urbanites had some kind of a bathing facility within their households. The rest, including women and children, bathed either in the open or in common public toilets, the poor conditions of which are documented well elsewhere. As much as 55 per cent of rural households had no separate bathing facility.

With bathing and drinking water comes the issue of drainage. Here, the figures are abysmal. Only 51 per cent of households had some kind of drainage facility. Only 37 per cent of rural households compared with urban households (82 per cent) had some kind of a drainage system. Overall, only 18 per cent of households had covered drainage systems, a mere five percentage point decline from the last census in the number of households without any drainage system.

What is more alarming is that more than 50 per cent of households did not have latrines. Only 36 per cent had a water closet, with urban India obviously showing a higher rate (73 per cent) than rural India (19 per cent).

The survey data show that in eight lakh households, night soil was removed by human beings. But in five lakh households, night soil was removed by animals, a category that remains unclear. Some 13 lakh households used open drains to dispose of night soil.

Manual scavenging

Manual scavenging has been one of the worst kept secrets of modern India. Reacting to the findings in the census, representatives of the Safai Karamchari Andolan, a movement for the elimination of manual scavenging, said that the Government of India had not honoured the commitment it had made repeatedly over the years to eradicate manual scavenging. In a written representation to Members of Parliament, the organisation said that this commitment had been made right from the time of Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. President Pratibha Patil repeated it in her latest address to Parliament. In June 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that within six months, manual scavenging would be eradicated.

Despite documented evidence of there being 10,000 manual scavengers (the Andolan says there are more than three lakh of them), the applications for the rehabilitation of scavengers lay pending in district administration offices, the organisation's representatives said. They demanded that the government immediately announce a nationwide survey to find out the actual number of manual scavengers.

According to the Andolan's representatives, in January 2011, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik announced that the government would conduct a fresh survey to identify the locations of dry latrines and the number of manual scavengers. The organisation's own figures show that the largest number of manual scavenging instances were reported from Uttar Pradesh, followed by Bihar and Odisha. In Uttar Pradesh, in the 48 districts surveyed, 6,257 persons were found engaged in manual scavenging, while in Bihar the number was 2,897 persons in the 32 districts surveyed.

Fuel and electricity

Poor availability of electricity, low or negligible access to liquid petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking, and even the thinly spread use of computers and the Internet were also realities that appeared relevant only to some sections of society. Nearly 67 per cent of households used firewood, crop residue, cow dung cake or coal for cooking. A measly 29 per cent had access to LPG/pressurised natural gas (PNG), electricity or biogas, even though there was an 11 percentage point increase in the use of LPG over the previous census. Three per cent of households used kerosene for cooking. The usage of firewood was the highest in Madhya Pradesh. Electrification too was found to be far below the desired levels. For a country with a fair concentration of information technology hubs, only 67 per cent of households used electricity in some form. While this reflected an increase in 11 percentage points over the last census, the number of households without electricity was more than 30 per cent. In fact, 31 per cent of households used kerosene for lighting, which perhaps underscores the need to continue the subsidy on kerosene.

Some 0.5 per cent of households lived in complete darkness. Many of the households dependent on kerosene went without any form of lighting for the entire year owing either to non-availability of or the inability to afford fuel. Another interesting piece of data is on the usage of the Internet. Only around 9.5 per cent of households had computers and only 3 per cent had access to the Internet.

The survey data were released on March 13, three days before the Union Finance Minister presented the Budget. They need to be acted upon urgently. If anything, they throw light on the way a huge number of Indians lead a minimalist existence.

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