The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), a national mission to clean India’s streets and roads and build infrastructure to eliminate open defecation, was launched on October 2, 2014. The mission is being implemented by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in urban and rural areas respectively. Apart from ensuring general cleanliness and scientific disposal of solid waste, the main component of the mission is the construction of toilets.
On a macro level, the mission has been able to hit the right chord by stressing on one of the major challenges to health in the country. There has been a wave of enthusiasm shown by the public, including the involvement of some well-known celebrities, politicians and academic institutions, that has helped the mission garner the necessary publicity. However, on a micro level, an assessment of the progress achieved in the past year and a half since its inception reveals an abysmal picture. In fact, less than 50 per cent of the targets set for individual and community toilet construction have been met so far.
Clearly, the success of the mission hinges on timely and effective implementation of targets along with bringing about a behavioural change in people with respect to adopting healthy sanitary practices.
Background and objective
In urban areas, the key objectives of the mission are elimination of open defecation, eradication of manual scavenging, as well as modern and scientific municipal solid waste management. The objectives also include generating awareness about sanitation and its link to public health. Further, the government is laying emphasis on creating an enabling environment for private sector participation, along with the capacity augmentation of urban local bodies (ULBs).
Under the mission, public toilets will be constructed in a number of places such as markets, stations, tourist places, near office complexes and in other public areas. The scope also includes the construction of community toilets for people currently practising open defecation, along with ensuring that no households engage in this practice. Moreover, no new insanitary toilets are to be constructed during the mission period and pit latrines are to be converted to sanitary latrines. For effective solid waste management, ULBs need to prepare detailed project reports (DPRs) for their cities in consultation with the respective state governments.
Targets of the mission
Overall, under the mission, there are plans to build a greater number of individual toilets than community toilets. From 2015-16 to 2018-19, the total number of individual toilets to be built is 10.4 million units whereas the total number of community toilets to be built is 508,000 units.
In terms of year-wise targets, the maximum number of individual and community toilets are to be built in 2016-17 and 2017-18. The government plans to wrap up the target for community toilets by March 2018 and no new community toilets will be built in 2018-19. With regard to individual toilets, only 900,000 units will be built in the last year (2018-19).
Besides eliminating open defecation, the mission aims at ensuring door-to-door collection, transportation and scientific disposal of municipal solid waste in 4,041 cities and towns. It also aims to apprise the population of healthy sanitation habits and change their mindset in terms of proper sanitation and waste disposal. This is currently a huge challenge facing the country.
Allocations and disbursements
The total estimated cost for the implementation of the SBM is Rs 620 billion. The funds will be shared between the central government and state governments/ULBs in the ratio 75:25. In case of the north-eastern and other special category states, the ratio will be 90:10. The gap in funds is likely to be generated through the private sector, user charges, market borrowing, external assistance, etc.
The funds will be divided into five parts – project funds, performance funds, capacity building, administrative and office expenses, research funds and those for public awareness and information, education and communication activities. Of the total project funds, 80 per cent will be allocated to states other than those in the Northeast, 10 per cent will be flexi funds and the remaining 10 per cent will be disbursed to the north-eastern states.
The progress so far
Against a target of constructing 2.5 million household toilets in urban areas till March 2016, construction of only 1.17 million toilets has been completed and another 2.36 million are currently under construction. Besides, against a target of constructing 0.1 million community and public toilets in urban areas by March 2016, a mere 0.05 million have been constructed while work has commenced on another 0.14 million.
Among states, Gujarat has emerged as the front-runner in terms of individual toilet construction with 0.45 million toilets constructed as of March 2016. It is followed by Madhya Pradesh, where 0.16 million toilets have been constructed. The maximum number of individual toilets where work has commenced are also in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh (around 0.4 million in each state). On the other hand, laggards such as Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura have not completed any individual household toilet construction as of March 2016. Further, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are some of the states that have fared well on community and public toilet construction, while work has not even commenced in Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal.
In terms of waste management, only 17.97 per cent of urban solid waste (garbage) was processed as of March 2016, against a target of 37.1 per cent. In comparison, progress in door-to-door collection was better, with about 43.46 per cent of urban India’s garbage being collected at source, against a target of 50 per cent. While Chandigarh and Goa had all waste collected at source, Assam and Uttar Pradesh were the laggards having only about 5 per cent wards with door-to-door collection.
To increase awareness, a number of steps are being taken by the government. For instance, thematic cleanliness drives are being held across the country for creating greater awareness and increasing the involvement of people.
However, the government has not been fully able to overcome the general perception that cleanliness will not yield any tangible benefits. This is reflected in the fact that barely 50 per cent of the toilets built under the SBM are being used. According to an all-India survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation between April and July 2015, while a mere 46 per cent of 9.5 million toilets built in rural India are being used, the number in urban areas is also startlingly low at around 50 per cent. The inertia displayed by the public in increasing cleanliness and hygiene in their communities remains a pressing concern hindering the progress of the mission.
With steps being taken in the right direction, the aim of a “swachh Bharat” does not seem unachievable. However, it is important to note that the onus of the mission’s success lies not only with the government but also with the public. Unless there is a behavioural change in the population with respect to these issues, the government’s efforts will always seem inadequate and inefficient. In the long run, extension of the vision and a holistic view of the sanitation problem could define the country’s path towards a cleaner and healthier India.