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A Sanitised effort for ‘Clean India’

Despite years of work, sanitation goals, particularly in rural India, have remained elusive. With the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission- targeting rural and urban hygiene- will the desired outcomes follow? Urmila Rao explores this question…
On October 2, the Center government is set to roll out The ‘Clean India’ (Swaach Bharat) campaign for improved sanitation in the country. The campaign’s announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his Independence Day speech. Raising concern over poor sanitation, and lack of toilets in particular, he said, “Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? ( Is) dignity of women not our collective responsibility?… how many diseases that act might engender…”
Sanitation broadly implies management of human excreta, solid waste, and sewage system to prevent exposure to fecal matters. In India, 626 million people defecate in open (59 per cent of the global total), according to 2012 UNICEF-WHO data. An estimated 62 percent of households are without improved sanitation, states World Bank research paper, 2014.  Poor sanitation heightens health risk; close to 450,000 lives are annually claimed by diarrhea in the country. Threat of other diseases like ascariasis (parasitic roundworm), hookworm infection and trachoma (infection of the eye) is rampant. As the empirical evidence states, inadequate sanitation pan India has led to stunted growth among children.
In this alarming background, even as we wait for Prime Minister Modi’s initiative to commence, there is a looming ambivalence on efficacy of the to-be-launched mission. Over the years, several attempts have been made towards improving the sanitation coverage, albeit without significant outcomes. Water supply and sanitation formed a part of the national agenda during the country’s first five-year plan (1951-56); however, it wasn’t until the ‘80s that the policymakers laid attention to sanitation requirements.  A nation-wide programme- Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) – was launched in 1986 to improve the quality of rural lives and provide privacy and dignity to women.  A decade plus later, in 1999, CRSP was re-structured as Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), with the aim of achieving universalisation of sanitation coverage by the year 2012. The year came and went by, with TSC getting further revamped into ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’ with new guidelines and strategies in a bid to meet objectives.
Despite years of work, the goal of total rural sanitation has remained elusive. Even the cash incentive strategy for villages achieving total sanitation in the decentralized programme ‘Nirmal Gram Puraskar’ of 2003 didn’t bring GoI any close to the goal. People still relieve themselves in open fields. As per a recent official release by the Ministry of Rural Development, out of the 17.19 crore rural households, about 11.11 crore do not have latrines.  The subsidy scheme (extended to a household constructing toilet) was not fruitful either; the release acknowledges, recording that more than 2 crore families who were given subsidy under the programme still do not have functional toilets.
Success of a nation-wide programme requires high political priority followed by rigorous implementation processes and sustained monitoring efforts. The TSC- a community-led, people-centric and incentive based programme- lost relevance due to lack of targeted interventions and follow-up evaluations. As a result of the policy and implementation deficit and inept programming, sanitation crisis persists. ‘Around 2 per cent of the rural households with access to toilets don’t use them’,notes 68th round of National Sample Survey data. (Research Institute for Compassionate Studies, however, found the figure to be 7 per cent).  A proper planning would ensure regular water supply in toilets and proper maintenance for rare use to translate into habitual use. Some households are building toilets on their own, but without technical knowledge or adherence to safety norms, they end up contaminating ground water; soak pits have been dug deep in the earth,pollutingthe ground water, safe distance between the soak pit and source of drinking water is not being maintained.
TO GO WITH India-sanitation-social-toilet-Gandhi,FOCUS BY ABHAYA SRIVASTAVA  In this photograph taken on September 22, 2014, Indian schoolchildren talk in front of a poster bearing a quote from Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a school run by sanitation charity Sulabh International in New Delhi. Surrounded by latrines and soap dispensers, charity founder Bindeshwar Pathak is most at home in the toilet, one of which he vows to build in every impoverished home in India.  AFP PHOTO/SAJJAD HUSSAIN        (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

In this photograph taken on September 22, 2014, Indian schoolchildren talk in front of a poster bearing a quote from Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a school run by sanitation charity Sulabh International in New Delhi. (AFP PHOTO/SAJJAD HUSSAIN/Getty Images)

In schools, toilet facilities have been pitiable to say the least. Taking cognizance of the matter, Mr Modi emphasized on having toilets in schools and separate toilets for girls. In his I-Day speech, he said that the target (of building toilets in school) should be finished within one year with the help of state governments. “On the next 15th August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for boys and girls,” he said.

School-toilets are not merely included in the sanitation programme goals. The GoI’s flagship programme ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’, launched in 2001 too had pledged provision of toilets in schools. However, targets are way off the mark. In Chhattisgarh for example, The District Information System for Education (DISE, 2011-12) data showed that 9 per cent schools were without functional drinking water facility, 40 per cent schools were without any toilet facility and 64 per cent schools were without provision for separate toilets for girls. In schools where sanitation facilities were present, only 22 percent were functional.
Earlier this year, Indore’s Daly College and De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester joined hands to construct washrooms with toilets for girls of Vivekananda Adarsh High School in a bid to retain girl students.‘The university used its expertise for public benefit’, apprised Mark Charlton, Square Mile Manager of the University, overseeing the project. Since 1970, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, has been committed to his goal of providing public toilets, having built more than one million toilets under his ‘Sulabh Sanitation’ Movement. Private efforts are worth exploring in rural and urban hygiene, however, until the State commits itself fully to provide this public good and eliminate the negative externalities of inadequate hygiene, emerging India will falter in growth.
The state of urban sanitation is dismal. A significant percentage of urban slums are not connected to any sewerage system. The illegal settlements lack proper sewerage and drainage facilities. Mumbai had experimented with mobile toilets; however, lack of access to sewer lines rendered them ineffective.Inadequate sanitation costs India Rs. 2.4 trillion a year. ‘Equivalent of 6.4 percent of India’s GDP in 2006’, states the report of World Bank administered Global Economics of Sanitation Initiative (India). Diarrhea in children below five years accounts for more than 47 percent, Rs. 824 billion of the total health-related economic impacts.
In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognised water and sanitation as human right. India recognizes the significance of adhering to international targets of development but to prove its commitment, the policy makers must start acting.  The WHO-UNICEF data on India’s achievement towards Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is embarrassing. ‘Going by the present pace of progress, India will achieveMDGs on sanitation only by 2054,’ states the report.  States such as Madhya Pradesh and Orissa will reach the target only in the next century where as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh will meet the MDG target in the coming 25 years. The verdict is not pretty.  To overturn it, the new administration has to work doubly hard. Mr. Modi is leading the way; in his recent meeting with the US president Mr. Barak Obama, he called for and received, support for his Swachh Bharat mission. The US government pledged partnership in ‘Clean India’ campaign with USAID and allied associates serving as knowledge partner in the endeavor. The Prime Minister’s ambassadorial role on sanitation merits attention as it speaks of his commitment for a sanitised Bharat.
Back home, the Center has laid out several steps to deal with the hygiene crisis. It’s fund share with respect to a State – towards the campaign- is  75: 25 respectively (expect for north-east states, special category states and Jammu and Kashmir where it is 90:10)- the real challenge, however, is sustained monitoring and implementation in a corruption-free environment. Even as the new government is busy re-structuring Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) into Swachh Bharat Mission (with focus on rural and urban sanitation), what remains to be seen is the effectiveness of the effort in coming months.

Urmila Rao is an independent researcher. She can be contacted at

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