‘Sanitation is more important than independence’, Mahatma Gandhi famously pronounced. India’s battle with total sanitation is an ongoing saga with successive governments working to provide and safeguard this basic human right for a few decades now.
Following the Gandhian ideal of ‘sanitation for all’, in its biggest and most recent cleanliness drive, the Government of India launched the ‘Clean India Campaign’, popularly known as the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ to make India open defecation and filth free by 2019.
What is the Swachh Bharat Mission?
The core intent of the Swachh Bharat Mission is to make India open defecation free by 2019. Keeping public spaces clean, constructing and maintaining both individual and community toilets are all part of the ‘Swachh’ agenda.
Though the Swachh Bharat Mission found mention in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech, it was formally inaugurated with much fanfare on October 2, 2014, Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birth anniversary.
The Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) is the successor of the erstwhile Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). The aim of the NBA, earlier known as the Total Sanitation Campaign, was to make India open defecation free by 2017.
Components of Swachh Bharat
The Swachh Bharat Mission is split into two sub-Missions - Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban). While the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is the nodal agency for the rural mission, the Ministry of Urban Development will take care of the budgetary concerns of the urban component.
Keeping the needs of the rural populace in mind, 1.34 lakh crore rupees has been earmarked for the rural mission, compared to the Rs. 62,009 crore budget for the urban mission.
Apart from this, the mission will also be supported through the Swachh Bharat Kosh while is set up to channelize philanthropic contributions for the cause, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) contributions and funding from other multilateral sources.
• Swachh Bharat Mission for Urban Areas: The focus is on establishing close to 2.6 lakh individual toilets and 2.5 lakh community toilets across 4,401 towns and cities in India. Eradicating manual scavenging and improved municipal solid waste management is part of the agenda.
• Swachh Bharat Mission – Gramin: Gram Panchayats and Zilla Parishads will work on war footing to make sure that all households in all villages have functional water supply and toilet facilities. Productive use of night soil as bio-fertilizers is also on the cards.
Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya
The ‘Clean India: Clean Schools’ campaign aims to ensure that all schools in India have functional and hygienic water supply and sanitation facilities. Through this mission, children are expected to be educated about the benefits of hand washing and the positive effects good personal hygiene has on health and wellness.
Improved levels of hygiene in schools directly impacts the health and well being of children, which in turn is responsible for improved attendance and performance in school. The initiative hopes to showcase children as agents of change, inspiring parents and relatives to adopt hygienic practices at home and in the community as a whole.
Clean neighborhoods: Apart from decimating open defecation, the Swachh Bharat Mission looks to spread the message of hygiene, personal and public, in both rural and urban settings.
Toilets, toilets everywhere: As a logical extension of getting rid of open defecation, constructing both individual household as well as community toilets top the priority list. Insanitary toilets will be converted into pour flush latrines and manual scavenging is expected to be done away with by 2019. The Mission aims at putting in place over 11 crore toilets within a span of 5 years. Around 20 million of them are expected to be constructed in the mission’s first year.
Modus operandi – Changing behavior
Defecating in the open is more a cultural thing than issues relating to access in India. Millions of Indians are used to answering nature’s call out in the open for decades. Equipped with a brass vessel filled with water, men and women start their day scouting for fresh ground away from their tenements to relieve themselves. The task is a bit more arduous for women as they have to either go just before dawn or after sun down to avoid being spotted while squatting.
A study conducted by Diane Coffey and associates in North India has revealed that people prefer going out in spite of having access to functional toilets in the vicinity. Women score better than men when it comes to toilet use, though notions of pollution and purity have kept many from constructing latrines near their living quarters.
Breaking this pattern has proven to be difficult in the past. Despite investing over 18,000 crores in the past two decades, results of India’s total sanitation endeavour have been dismal. Learning from failures, the government has resorted to spending more time, money and effort into changing people’s mindset and behavior, before installing toilets in villages and towns.
8% of the total project cost has been assigned for Information, education and communication (IEC) campaigns. It will mainly focus on hygiene education emphasizing on the health impacts of defecating in the open. The attempt is to generate a demand from within the community by interacting closely at the grassroots level rather than flushing money down the drain by constructing defunct toilets no one wants.
Why the skepticism?
From the Central Rural Sanitation Programme of the 80’s to the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan of the previous UPA regime, sanitation and water supply schemes have managed to capture and hold the attention of the governments, both at the centre and the state level. Despite being a national obsession, most schemes have come and gone with very little to show on the ground.
Census 2011 revealed that only 30.7% of households in rural areas had access to toilets. A 2008 UNICEF study sets the number even lower at a mere 21%. India tops the list of countries with the maximum number of people defecating out in the open.
The TSC and NBA’s central goal was to improve the toilet coverage in the country. In the past decade, the increase in toilet coverage across India has just been 1% per year.
The Swachh Bharat Mission aims to make India open defecation free by 2019. Now, all stakeholders, both government and non- government, have close to five years to make sure that every citizen squats in the privacy of a toilet. Five years to accomplish what it would have ordinarily taken close to fifty years, going by current figures.