Police in the town of Karimnagar in the Telangana province in central India are struggling to keep the city’s river clean, with a number of people shuttling to and from the river to defecate in the early hours of the morning. Police officers have reported difficulties on other frontswith drunken residents gathering on the banks of the river as well as pig shepherds bathing their pigs in the river, both of which the police claim pose a threat to the cleanliness of the water, which is an important source of drinking water for the town. But the police are looking to drones as an unconventional tool to curb public defecation in the town.

In response to defecators flocking to the river, police have resorted to deploying drones – also known as UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) – to patrol the river, in an attempt to decrease the number of public defecators. While cleanliness of the water remains the police’s primary drive, the town also wants to respect joggers and pedestrians and facilitate a safe space – especially for women. 

Drones are largely used as a militaristic weapon by governments in warfare or for surveillance. Drones have been used on several other occasions that are a shift away from your run-of-the-mill military operation such as rescue missions off the coast of Lesvos, in France to catch reckless drivers, in Australia to patrol popular beaches, and in Dubai to monitor littering. However, that does not shake the public’s feeling of intrusion and surveillance by drone-operators.  

The controversy around the usage of drones similar to that in the case of Karimnagar’s defecators is a concern the police force has taken into consideration in their campaign. Joined by the local walker’s association, the police went around three residential areas with visuals and explained what a drone is and what the police force would be using them for. They stated that the purpose of drones is to curb the number of defecators flocking to the river to relieve themselves by shaming them, but also claim that it will also instill in them a sense of awareness about the damage they are causing to the river.

This is not the first time that an Indian province has taken measures to attempt to curb public defecation. Around 60% of Indians living in urban spaces do not have toilets in their place of residence; the number rises to 72% in rural areas. This explains the approximately 595 million Indians who defecate in the street, on the banks of rivers, or elsewhere according to UNICEF. In mid-2015, the Indian government spearheaded a campaign titled “Take the Poo to the Loo,” which included a pop song in efforts to encourage citizens to defecate in toilets as opposed to on the street. Earlier this year, Delhi announced it would be installing 8,000 public restrooms.

public defecation

Courtesy of Sharada Prasad

In 2012, a joint report published by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) titled “Water Sanitation Hygiene: Fast Facts,” detailed statistics about global access to clean water. According to the study, 1.1 billion people around the world openly engage in public defecation, with 626 million in India alone. This puts India at the top of the study’s list of countries, with more than three-quarters of its population defecating in public.