Soon after announcing their intention to send an astronaut into space by the year 2014, Indian authorities revealed that they were considering an even more ambitious plan: to provide toilets for all Indians by the year 3014.
"First we'll put a man in space, then we'll put a woman in space," Gopal Pandey, a senior government official, said. "After that, we'll dedicate all our resources to the toilet problem."
Pandey acknowledged that many diseases are spread through poor sanitation and inadequate sewage disposal, which lead to water contamination. At least a third of India's population has no access to toilets.
"Toilets are important," Pandey said. "That's why we are planning to put a toilet inside our rocket. Not only that, we're also planning to be the first country to build a toilet on the moon."
The space mission would enhance India's position as a world leader, just as the nuclear program did, Pandey said. "Once we are recognized everywhere as a world leader," he said, "we can focus on improving people's lives."
In defense of the plan, Pandey cited a government-funded survey conducted recently at a slum in Mumbai. Asked to choose between the space program and toilets for everyone, 90 percent of the 1,198 people surveyed picked the space program. As one man said, "We want space. Space is good."
Added his wife: "If we have space, we don't need toilets."
People should not expect the government to build toilets, said M.K. Shastri, a Mumbai politician. "Where in the Indian constitution does it say that everyone should have a toilet?" he asked. "Toilets are not a constitutional right. If a family wants a toilet, they should go to the store and buy a hoe."
Asked if he thought sewer systems and treatment plants were necessary, Shastri shook his head vigorously. "We have lots of treatment plants in India," he said. "Just go and see an ayurvedic doctor. He will give you a plant for your treatment."
Unlike Shastri, Pandey believes the government needs to build toilets, just not as quickly as some people believe. "We will eventually have one working toilet for every family," he said. "One toilet that each person can enjoy with their children, parents, uncles, aunties and cousins."
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