The beauty of working at a startup lies in the fact that in some way, you get exposed to every aspect of the business. As the data sciences lab intern, my job essentially involves analyzing and visualizing social data. However, on day 5, after my daily religious cup of chai and quota of gobi paratha, I found myself traveling across Delhi towards the urban slums of Vasant Kunj to understand the condition of public toilets there and how to monitor their sanitary status. And so it came to be that I found myself walking down the recently cemented pathways of the Dalit Ekta Camp.

public toilets, team, data, water, water access, India

About 3 years ago, the Dalit Ekta Camp was one of the most underdeveloped urban slums. With almost no access to water, no infrastructure, and no navigational pathways, it wasn’t rare to find little children defecating near the main road. Since then, with the intervention of NGOs and the government, there has been a massive improvement in roads, garbage disposal systems, and access to water. Today, every household has access to water, and the roads are clean and free of rubbish. In fact, the public toilets of the slums had been recently renovated. Eager to observe the progress, I failed to pay attention to the apprehensive thoughts gnawing at my subconscious.

In India, corruption is a common word. Irrespective of age, gender, literacy, and occupation, Indians will have something substantial, personal even, to discuss regarding this issue. But, being an idealist, I made the naive mistake of overlooking that. On first look, the toilets looked impressive. There were so many cubicles, separate ones for bathing too. I was, I have to admit, rather impressed. But then I couldn’t help wondering why no one was using them. Looking around, I finally spotted one woman walking towards the toilets…..with a can of water. On enquiring, I learned what I should have seen coming. The pipeline construction had been done so poorly that, within a short period of installing the toilets, the main pipe had burst, leading all the feces to drop down into the ground below the cubicles, leading the area to smell and render the toilets useless. What’s more, the failure of the main pipe meant that there was NO water in any of the toilets.

Toilets – Water = Waste {Time, Money, Human Resources}

This may seem like a laughable dilemma, but it is no joke to the approximately 2,000 inhabitants of that camp. What is the purpose of using so many resources if the focus is not on social impact of the project but rather on its economic profit? Now further renovation needs to be done, the pipe needs to be repaired, and the area cleaned up. But by then, the existing cubicles might well deteriorate under the misuse it has faced due to the lack of water. While this pointless cycle of problems and fixes occur, no one seems to care about what the Dalit Ekta Camp residents are going through, albeit the NGOs and parties that were interested in it in the first place. Until water flows through the pipes there, are we to expect children defecating in the concrete roads now? I sincerely hope not.

All in all, the visit to this camp was a knock on my head. Development is rampant, but is it honestly leading to an improvement in society? Careful planning and less corruption is a necessity if we really want to solve the Indian development dilemma.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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