Clean drinking water and Sanitation, the essentials of health hygiene, are denied to more than 50 percent of the Indian population. This brings about a burden of 600 million USD every year to India for waterborne diseases. Resolution 64/292 at the UN General Assembly recognized Human Rights to Water and Sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential human rights in 2010.
But, a walk down the lanes of Telugu and Punjabi Colony in the Ulubari area of Guwahati shows horrific pictures of living conditions. These colonies are settlements allotted by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), after the reconstruction in 2003. The four blocks comprising approximately more than a thousand families are a complete massacre of healthy living conditions.
The two-storeyed blocks when overflew with increasing population, several families built rooftop sheds with no sanitation facilities. The colony had two public toilets to be shared between 20-25 families in the whole colony. The toilets over the years turned into dump pits with no maintenance. This makes women and children living in those sheds defecating outdoors.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or the ‘Clean India Mission’ 2014 which already was a reconstructed version of failed ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’ from 2009, with prospects of open-defecation free India seems to have failed miserably at these colonies. The campaign promised to eradicate manual scavenging in its first phase, which ended in 2019.
The unexpected twist here would be that these colonies are built for sanitation labourers and other GMC workers. These people are employed by the municipality to clean other parts of the city and leaving them with no maintenance to their colony.
The sewage system of the adjacent Punjabi Colony has collapsed years back and the residents seem to have adapted to such miserable living conditions. “The sewage drain outside had overflowed last night after the rain. The sewage water went inside our temple, next to it. I cleaned it with my hands this morning” said a local resident.
A common toilet was built right outside the last block of the colony a few years back, which now leaks right from the door. The toilets have been abandoned for it’s poor maintenance. This also has reportedly brought several diseases amongst children living in the premises, which are due to very evident reasons.
The water supply to the colonies shows horrific conditions of women and children queuing up in hundreds, with open buckets twice a day to meet their water needs. The colony though was provided with a bore water system which later failed with the shortage of meeting demands.
The distribution points are attached right next to the open drains, where people queue up twice a day to fill in their buckets. “The water which is supplied is smelly and is certainly unfit for drinking. But, we’ve no other choice than using it” says Sam Singh, a local resident of the Punjabi Colony.
These are stories from the city’s heart of Guwahati. 100 meters from the Nehru Stadium, 400 meters from Assam Police HQ, and a kilometer away from the Assam State Museum. The residents have belonged to the place for generations, with active voting IDs from the city. The conditions where they’re bound to live are mere violations of basic human rights of living.
The saga of ‘only on papers’ goes on here, where people die due to a lack of essential support from the authorities and the privileged go on clapping for non-viable schemes and missions being launched. There are lives crumpled in the middle of such PR stunts by our authorities.