Jairam Ramesh says toilets more important in India than temples

Toilets are more important in India than temples, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh said here on Friday, as he inaugurated a yatra that will travel through states raising awareness about sanitation.

"Sixty-four per cent of Indians defecate in open spaces, which is a global record. It is now reckoned as the main cause of India's malnutrition problem. In the past five years, we have spent more than Rs 45,000 crore on rural sanitation and will spend Rs 1.08 lakh crore in the next five years to make India open-defecation-free country," Ramesh told a gathering of panchayat-level workers, children and officials.

The Nirmal Bharat Yatra will cover 2,000 km through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, before culminating at Bettiah in Champaran where Mahatma Gandhi started his freedom struggle in India. The yatra will also try to tackle taboos around menstrual hygiene management.

WASH United, an international water, sanitation and hygiene advocacy organisation, and Quicksand Design Studio, an India-based innovation firm specialising in WASH (water and sanitation hygiene), have teamed up to put together the yatra. Cricketers and film stars are being roped in to get across the message, with Sachin Tendulkar and Vidya Balan as the brand ambassadors.

"We need to turn every village into Hivre Bajar and Ralegan Siddhi, the two Maharashtra villages that have set examples in rural sanitation," Ramesh said, adding that central funding for rural toilets will be raised from Rs 3,500 per family to Rs 10,000.

Thorsten Kiefer, Executive Director of WASH United, and Nirat Bhatnagar, Principal of Quicksand, said the yatra was about "reinventing toilet talk" and hoped to make "toilets and hygiene cool and sexy".

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