Swacch Bharat Mission seen as ‘toilet-building’ programme to achieve targets set by government

sanitationExcerpts from the study, “CSR in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): What are India’s top companies up to?”, facilitated by the India Sanitation Coalition (ISC)*, in order to find out corporate involvement in the Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM):

The study selected 100 companies with the largest CSR budgets on the BSE 500. These companies were chosen based on their position as leaders of Indian industry whose decisions are likely to set trends for the CSR initiatives of other companies. Their influence on the CSR space is also significant due to their large budgets. Of the 90 companies that supported WASH programs, 45 companies belonged to the Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing industry, 19 to Banking, 11 to IT & Finance, 6 were Healthcare companies, 5 were from the Fast- Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector, 3 from the Telecommunication industry and 1 was a Media and Entertainment undertaking.

38%, or 34 out of the 90 companies were public sector undertakings. Of the 10 companies that did not have a WASH program, 4 belonged to the IT & Finance industry, 2 each to Healthcare and Banking, 1 to Media and Entertainment and 1 to Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing.

Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing and FMCG companies were more likely to support WASH programs. 45 out of 46 Heavy Engineering companies and all 5 FMCG companies on the top 100 list reported having at least one WASH program. The IT & Finance and Healthcare industries were less likely to support WASH initiatives – about a quarter of companies from each of these industries did not report any WASH programs in the last three years. This industry trend can be explained to an extent by the strategic importance of WASH to industries such as FMCG and heavy engineering.

FMCG products like water purifiers, soaps, disinfectants and cleaning solutions are aligned to specific issues within WASH, such as access to clean drinking water and good hygiene practices – which explain their interest. Similarly, for Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing companies, the communities surrounding their factories are key stakeholders and WASH forms an important part of their community development initiatives.

Only 33 companies published information on the financial outlays and budgets of their CSR programs. Based on this data the median allocation to WASH programs was approximately  Rs 4.65 crore. However, there were wide variations in the budgets of companies – 8 companies (24%) had a budget of less than Rs 1 crore, the lowest reported amount being Rs 55,000. 11 companies (33%) had budgets ranging from Rs 1 to 5 crore, 6 companies (18%) reported spending between Rs 5 to 15 crore and 8 companies (24%) had a budget of more than Rs15 crore – the highest being Rs 235 crore, reported by a heavy engineering and manufacturing company.

Data indicated that CSR in WASH was concentrated in rural areas. Of the 86 companies that published information on geographical coverage, 52% were focused on rural areas alone compared to only 17% which reported working exclusively in urban areas. The remaining 31% companies were spread across mixed geographies.

An analysis of the types of interventions conducted according to location also depicted a strong preference for rural areas. 11 of the 12 types of interventions were conducted in rural vicinities. Only Swachhta Saptah (cleanliness week) drives were conducted in urban areas, possibly owing to the fact that they are mainly organised in the vicinity of regional headquarters of companies or offices which tend to be located in urban or semi-urban regions. This bias could be due to the relative ease of operation in such areas – easy availability of construction space, the sense of community in villages, a clear leadership (the Panchayat and sarpanch) and so on.

These findings indicate a critical need to address urban WASH issues. The current neglect could be a result of the complex technical, operational and administrative issues associated with implementing WASH programs, further compounded by the high population density and limited space in urban areas. In the face of growing slum populations, with over 50 million people forced to defecate in the open,11 slums lacking toilet facilities and community toilets rendered unusable due to poor maintenance,12 the lack of adequate WASH facilities in urban areas could pose serious health-risks to urban populations in India if sidelined.

CSR in WASH promoted hardware interventions, but neglected software-related programs. While the overall corporate participation rate in WASH is encouraging at 90%, underlying patterns reveal a skew in the type of WASH programs reported by companies. This study divides the various components of WASH into two broad buckets –hardware and software interventions. Government schemes are highlighted as a separate category.

Hardware interventions include creating or supporting the construction of toilets or water storage facilities, the operation and maintenance of sanitation facilities and other related activities, while software-related programs look at creating awareness and undertaking activities that influence socio-cultural attitudes and behaviour. Of the 84 companies that published information on their programs, 83 supported hardware components compared to only 19 that supported programs related to software. While 18 companies had programs relating to both aspects, further analysis revealed that 65 companies reported implementing hardware programs without any focus on software.

Interactions with companies revealed a few possible reasons for this imbalance:

  • Lack of usable knowledge on various aspects of the sanitation value chain
  • Perception that implementation partners or NGOs for certain software programs are difficult to identify
  • Difficulties in quantifying and measuring impact, especially in terms of changing habits and attitudes The long gestation period required before impact can be realized for interventions related to behaviour change
  • Lack of clarity on what constitutes CSR, especially for companies whose products are aligned to WASH
  • Narrow reading of SBM, which is perceived as a ‘toilet-building’ program, combined with the construction-oriented targets set by the Government

The importance of regular maintenance to ensure the usability of toilets cannot be overstated. Yet only 15% of companies incorporated the repair and maintenance of new or existing toilets in their CSR programs. Of the 13 companies that supported this, 8 were Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing companies, 2 belonged to IT & Finance and Banking, Healthcare and FMCG had 1 each.

A similar trend was observed with the provision of water. 41% of companies focussed on providing facilities for clean drinking water, though only 19% provided water storage facilities. Evidence from the field has shown that 14% or 12 companies reported programs in waste management. Data indicated that the effort was directed towards solid waste management, which includes the distribution of dustbins, building soak pits and the construction of bio-digester toilets. There was almost no report of activities like emptying pits and septic tanks, transportation to sewage treatment facilities and disposal/reuse of waste, either in rural or urban areas.

Studies have shown that around 28% of Indian girls do not attend school during menstruation due to the lack of sanitation facilities in schools. Several taboos and myths around the subject inhibit clear factual discussions of the topic, perpetuating half-truths that can have serious implications on a girl’s physical and mental health. Unfortunately, CSR support for menstrual management facilities was non-existent. Only 5% or 4 companies (2 from Heavy Engineering, 1 from FMCG and 1 from IT & Finance) on the list supported the issue by providing a package of services that could be availed by female students to ensure their regular experience in school remained unhampered through the course of menses.

A vast body of research exists to prove that one of the key reasons for high open defecation rates, particularly in rural India, is the attitude of individuals. Despite the evidence, only 20% of companies reported integrating behaviour change communication (BCC) into their WASH programs. Data and anecdotal evidence both suggest that FMCG companies were more likely to implement BCC with three out of the five companies, reporting a program targeted towards inducing behavioural change. This was possibly because BCC was of strategic importance to these companies, given their product lines which include soaps, disinfectants etc. These companies also have other enabling competencies such as deep consumer insights, BCC material and existing campaigns that they can leverage. Information published by companies about BCC programs and their effectiveness was inadequate.

Data indicated that a majority of companies implemented awareness programs at the community level, taught school students the importance of good WASH practices and held cleanliness drives. In response to Government guidelines, around 14% (mostly PSUs) reported organizing a ‘Swachhta Saptah’ (cleanliness week) which included special cleanliness drives around offices and branches and raising awareness through competitions, walkathons and workshops.

While creating awareness is a necessary part of any program that aims to influence behaviour, conducting such programs is not an adequate response to the need for behaviour change. It is not clear whether companies and other key stakeholders involved in the wider sanitation ecosystem have taken cognizance of this.

*Research team: Anushree Parekh, Poorvaja Prakash, Richa Mukerjee and Dakshini Bhattacharya. Click HERE to download study

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