Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's emphasis on toilets in his Independence Day speech and suggested collective efforts to end the menace of open defecation in the country. "I have been saying that making India open defecation free should be a national junoon, a national obsession. When I was Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation, we had launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan and now Mr. Modi is taking that forward with his Swachh Bharat Mission," he said in a statement posted on his website.
He said it was indeed a formidable challenge to make India open defecation free by October 2, 2019, the 150 birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. "But as a nation we must accept it and work collectively towards achieving that noble objective. The security and dignity of women depends on it. The nutritional status of our children depends on it," the Rajya Sabha MP said.
During his stint as Sanitation Minister in the Manmohan Singh government, Ramesh had brought sanitation issue into limelight by launching nationwide campaign to end open defecation -- often attracting controversies with his comments including the one on temple and toilets.
Ramesh, who rechristened the government's Total Sanitation Campaign as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, had even roped in "Dirty Picture" actor Vidya Balan as brand ambassador of sanitation campaign hoping to end open defecation in 10 years. The Congress leader said he was now mobilizing MPs to play their role to create awareness among massess about the necessity of ending the practice of open defecation in the country.
"Twenty MPs cutting across political parties have agreed to come together and function as a group to be a public voice for an open defecation free India. I am confident that this group will soon become very active and make its contributions," he said. In his Independence Day speech, Modi pitched for efforts to build toilets to do away with the need for women to defecate out in the open. He urged parliamentarians and the corporate sector to help build separate toilets by next year for girls in schools across the country.