India's PM says villages are open-defecation free now

NEW DELHI — India’s prime minister said Wednesday the country’s villages now all have access to toilets as his government announced another ambitious campaign aimed at eliminating single-use plastics within three years.

Nearly 600 million people have been given access to toilets with more than 110 million toilets built since his government came to power in 2014, Narendra Modi said in a speech to thousands of villagers in his western home state of Gujarat, commemorating the 150th anniversary of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi’s birth.

He said that “today the world is amazed by this success of ours and they are rewarding us.”

More than 60% of India’s 1.3 billion people live in more than 600,000 villages. Poor villagers who can’t afford to build toilets in their homes chose open fields, forests, ditches and other open spaces for defecation.

After becoming India’s prime minister in 2014, Modi promised to make India an open-defecation free country. He said Wednesday that the task was not over yet.

Also Wednesday, Environment ministry official Chintan Mishra said the government has started efforts to “sensitize” the public against single-use plastics.

Mishra explained the campaign at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in New Delhi.

Most Indian states already have some regulations on single-use plastics. The central government is asking all states to try to end their use by 2022.

Mishra, however, said the government would not impose a blanket nationwide ban.

Chitra Mukherjee, an environmentalist, said it was disappointing that the government didn’t decide on a national ban.

“Certain products such as plastic stirrers, cups, straws and sachets would be very easy to ban outright, because they don’t require alternatives and have no recyclable value,” said Mukherjee, policy director of the environmental research group Chintan.

Thousands of small and medium-size plants currently manufacturing single-use plastics could shut down if there were a total ban.

“While India’s plastic exports would not be impacted, domestic industry would certainly be hit temporarily,” the Business Standard newspaper quoted Sribash Dasmohapatra of the Plastic Export Promotion Council as saying.

A national ban is not the main issue, said Vinod Kumar Jindal, a government official overseeing the “Clean India Mission.”

“The rules for plastic and solid waste management are already there. It is the implementation that must be improved, and public awareness,” he said.

India generates about 15 million kilograms (33 million pounds) of plastic waste every day, of which about 60% is collected and recycled. That’s roughly 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of waste per capita per year, compared to 28 kilograms (62 pounds) globally, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.


This story has been corrected to show that the three-year period is a target, not a deadline.

Krithika Varagur, The Associated Press