Swachh Bharat needs sustained efforts to truly succeed, says WaterAid

As the Indian government gears up to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the launch of the ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), WaterAid India analyses its performance over the last year on what has worked, what hasn’t worked that well and what needs to be improved to make India open defecation free by 2019.

It is one year to the day since the Prime Minister launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, whose primary focus is to make India open defecation free by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019.

Neeraj Jain, Chief Executive of WaterAid India said:

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure in the next four years that millions of Indians can have and more importantly use something that most of the world takes for granted, a toilet. The Swachh Bharat Mission, like no other sanitation programme in India before it, has the highest political commitment driving it. But lot needs to be done still to make India truly open defecation free. The need of the hour is an effective, resourced and financed system that can drive and deliver the campaign on the ground, where it matters the most.”

Compared to the earlier government sanitation programmes, the three most significant departures of SBM were:

  • Pushing the implementation onto the states with clear targets and an ambitious timeline. States have the flexibility to design the programme and monitoring systems
  • Percentage allocated for behaviour change has been reduced while increasing the scope of work under this head
  • A well thought out scheme of work that for the first time included post-construction or sustainability
  • Political willingness displayed right at the highest level
  • Increased involvement of elected representatives in water and sanitation issues

31.5 lakh households were reported to have been covered in the past six months from April to September 2015. If the same pace continues, this year 63 lakh households will get toilets, an 8 per cent increase over the last year. (Refer to infographic for exact figures)

At the onset of SBM in October 2014, India required around 11 crore toilets to ensure each household has one. This excludes school, community, anganwadi and health centre toilets. To achieve the goal of each household with a toilet by 2019, around 61,000 toilets need to be constructed every day, more than three times the current pace of construction.

Though the total budget allocated to the campaign initially in this year’s Union budget has increased, it is still insufficient to complete the enormous task at hand. The government currently gives an incentive of INR 12,000 per toilet for every eligible household. That means the incentive alone will take up INR 28,000 crore a year. This also does not cover the human resource and other costs. Due to this funding gap, the government is encouraging resource mobilisation from other sources. A Swachh Bharat Kosh has been set up at the Ministry of Finance for corporates interested in contributing to SBM. A proposed cess of 1% on some items is also expected to raise some additional funds.

The other critical aspect is human resources. A project this size is being run on the skimpiest of human resources. The nodal ministry responsible for SBM, the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, has just a handful of secretaries, supporting officials and consultants. Similarly, each state has only 3-5 state level consultants and engineers while each district has 1-3 people and each block has 1-2. The present system cannot fully utilise the funds needed nor deliver the kind of throughput needed to drive the programme in top gear.

The third issue is low priority given to sanitation in decision making from the district to the village level, where it actually matters. Despite all the sound and fury at the Union and even state levels, sanitation remains of peripheral interest in most of the 670-odd districts of the country. While we have seen a handful of district collectors taking up the task of making their districts free from open defecation, but they are still rare exceptions. More leadership at the district level needs to be galvanized.

Poor sanitation is a significant reason for India’s constant dismal showing on the human development indicators. It is also a powerful disincentive for tourists and industry as its shows India in a poor light, a land flowing with excreta and disease. To fix this, district authorities must be enthused, resourced and provided the technical options to execute SBM. They need materials and simple locally relevant solutions that do not compound the problem in the long run. They need easy interpersonal communication pointers, methods and messages. A national campaign making the right noises can help drive public awareness but the real action needs to happen on the ground.

To ensure that SBM delivers on its ambitious but much needed promise, WaterAid India is calling on the government at all levels from the Panchayat to the Centre to:

  • continue to push collective behaviour change to ensure open-defecation free communities and villages and not just concentrate on toilets construction
  • creatively use IEC (information, education, communication) materials for dispelling myths around notions of purity and pollution like twin pit is unsafe, open defecation is healthy etc.
  • continue to activate and empower a dedicated cadre of frontline workers to promote hygiene, ensure usage and reduce slippages
  • continued community-led decentralised planning that includes solid and liquid waste management to reduce water contamination
  • ensure WASH in healthcare facilities, with adequate planning, funding and monitoring
  • view sanitation as a fundamental human right situated in the broader horizon of other rights e.g., to food, education, livelihoods and health
  • create more champions especially from administrators who, if well briefed and trained, can quickly push forward the sanitation programme based on experiences from several states and districts
  • hold ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) and PRIs (Panchayati Raj Institutions) accountable through suitable institutional and cultural shifts especially by separating monitoring from planning and implementation
  • strengthen the MIS (Management Information System) to include sustainability measures and undertake annual national level random sample surveys for third party verification that ensures accuracy of coverage and usage
  • undertake inclusive planning from the view of most marginalised i.e. dalits and tribals
  • activate all the mandated bodies from the bottom to the top like village water sanitation committees, district water sanitation committees and state water sanitation committees to sustain the drive

Toilet Facts

44 per cent of the total population in India still defecate in the open.

Open defecation causes chronic diarrhoea that leads to stunting.