Dream of Father of the Nation for total sanitation for all and a clean India is still elusive

INDIA-SOCIETY-TOILET-DAY

Excerpts from the report by the Parliamentary standing committee on rural development (2017-18), released in the 16th Lok Sabha, on Swacch Bharat Mission (Gramin), on July 19 2018:

The Committee observes that the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) was launched 32 years back in 1986 with a view to have a nationwide focus on rural sanitation. The programme was subsequently restructured as Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 1999 and again as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 2012.

To significantly upscale the programme and bring the nations focus on the issue of sanitation, the Government of India had again restructured the programme and launched it as Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) on 2nd October, 2014 to accelerate efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage, improve cleanliness and eliminate Open Defecation in India by 2nd October, 2019.

The concept of Swachh Bharat Mission (G) is to focus on behaviour change and provide sanitation facilities to every family in the rural areas, including toilets, solid and liquid waste disposal systems, and also motivate sustainable sanitation for overall village cleanliness and improvement in the general quality of life in the rural areas.

In the above context, the Committee is of the view that the dream of father of Nation for total sanitation for all and a clean India is still elusive. The Committee observes that safe sanitation and cleanliness is most important for physical well-being and a healthy environment of every society. It has bearing on public and personal hygiene. It is essential for everyone to understand the positive impact of cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation on the eco-system and also the various diseases that are caused due to poor hygienic conditions. The Committee is of the view that perfect sanitation makes an ‘ideal village’.

Therefore, the Committee strongly feels the need for ensuring all steps needed to be taken to achieve the desired objectives of universal sanitation coverage and eliminate open defecation in India by 2nd October, 2019 and urges upon the Ministry to expedite its efforts for attaining the said goal and thereby paying befitting tribute to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, on his 150th birth anniversary.

Sanitation Coverage

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) has claimed about 84% of sanitation coverage in the rural areas of the country as on 24th May, 2018. However, contrary to the figures being projected by the Ministry, the Committee while examining the subject was of the view that the sanitation coverage figures seemed to be more on “Paper” but the actual progress at the ground level is very lethargic.

Even a village with 100% household toilets cannot be declared ODF till all the inhabitants start using them. The main thrust of the Government should be on the usage of toilets as mere building of toilets alone is not sufficient for the realization of actual vision of an ODF country. The visible reality through the experiences reveal that much more is needed to be done so as to obtain the “behavioural change” in rural populace to attain the real motive behind the programme.

In the wake of this serious concern, the Committee strongly recommends MDWS to bring about a radical transformation in the “behavioural” aspects of the rural masses by inculcating in them a sense of hygiene and well being through mass extensive awareness campaigns and other suitable mechanisms, so that the gap in the figures projected and the ground reality may be abridged for the betterment of the country. The Committee may also be duly apprised of the new initiatives taken in this regard.

Sanitation Coverage of Lagging States

The Committee while undergoing the sanitation coverage across the States found that the performance of some of the States i.e. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Odisha etc. are very low. Appalled by the slackness of sanitation coverage in these States, the Committee enquired from the Ministry about the state of affairs, in response to which the Ministry informed that they are aware of it and have given special emphasis to the said States through various innovative measures.

In this context, Secretary of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation candidly admitted before the Committee about the dismal performance of bigger States and assured the Committee that the Government will take all necessary steps and will provide extra budgetary resources also to these States to improve the situation.

The Committee observes that the efforts made by the Government are not complete if the issue of awareness generation is left behind in this demand driven programme across the States for a pan-India increase in sanitation coverage. In view of the above, the Committee is of the firm view that the Ministry should pay more attention towards pace of sanitation in the low performing States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Odisha on war footing. The Committee would also like to be apprised of the follow up action by the Ministry in this regard.

Quality of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) under SBM (G)

The Committee is of the view that no amount of infrastructural development under SBM (G) will sustain ODF until and unless the issue of durability and quality of construction of toilets is taken due care of. The Committee are wary of the poor nature of construction and low quality of raw materials being used in the construction of toilets under SBM (G) as found by Members themselves and through different feed-backs.

It is a serious cause of concern and the Committee, thus, presses upon the Ministry to ensure that quality of raw materials used for construction of toilets under SBM (G) are of a good standard commensurate with the amount being spent as incentive to the beneficiaries without any compromise.

Deletion of Defunct Toilets data from the portal

To have sound credibility on the ODF data, survey and regular re-survey needs to be done in order to identify and rectify the defunct toilets over a period of time. The inclusion of the number of toilet in the data does not reveal a real picture of ODF until and unless the “coverage” data and “usable” data in regard to the functional toilets are same.

Taking note of this, the Committee recommends the Ministry to review its data time to time and delete the number of defunct toilets from the list to have a real picture of constructed and functional toilets in the country.

Community Sanitary Complexes (CSCs)

As per the goal of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), the Government is committed to achieve the dream of “Swachh Bharat” by October, 2019, which indeed is a noble and welfare vision for the health and well-being of the citizens’ of the Country. The Committee, delving deep, into the bottlenecks faced by the Ministry in the realization of the goal could find that among major challenges, the type and sizes of rural houses also threw constraints like (water availability, sewer feasibility issues etc.) in constructing individual household latrines.

Therefore, the Committee is of the opinion that to ward off such challenges, MDWS should, instead, concentrate on the idea of construction of more Community Sanitary Complexes (CSCs) at designated places with proper infrastructure that could cater to large population.

The information by the Ministry shows that the progress of construction of Community Sanitary Complexes (CSCs) is not very encouraging. The Ministry must examine the reasons for such a poor response to the Community Sanitary Complexes keeping in view the issues of maintenance and sustainability of such Complexes also.

The Committee also found that wherever operational, these CSCs were being run by the Gram Panchayats. It was also felt by the Committee that modalities can be devised by the MDWS to provide due incentives to the Gram Panchayats for maintenance of CSCs so that non-sustenance of such complexes do not take place. In view of the above, the Committee strongly recommends the Ministry to construct more CSCs along with developing a mechanism of incentivizing the GPs for maintenance of such CSCs.

Accuracy of data

While appreciating the information furnished by the Ministry during the course of examination of SBM (G) regarding its claim that 77% households in rural India have access to toilets and about 93% of them use toilets regularly, the Committee feels that if the findings of the survey are to be believed, the situation looks very encouraging.

However, it has been observed in the past that fall back rate of ODF declared villages were very high, either due to filing of wrong information regarding attaining of ODF or due to non-sustainability of toilets, such villages reverted back to open defecation, thus rendering the entire exercise futile, while on data, they remain ODF.

Therefore, the Committee strongly recommends that the Ministry must collect the information on ODF declared villages accurately on continuous basis either through institutional mechanism or through resurvey of these areas. The independent flow of such information from the local institutions of people like PRIs may also enhance the accuracy of facts.

Water availability

At a time, when the major parts of the Country are under severe water shortage, the idea of attaining ODF status for 100% sanitation coverage across the nation seems farcical. Availability of water resource is of utmost importance and mere construction of toilets without water is of no use and wastage of resources. The Committee, while taking into cognizance of such alarming situation calls upon the MDWS to look into the matter earnestly and ensure that along with construction of toilets, availability of water is mandatorily done.

The Committee feels that the priority of Government should not be limited to the construction of infrastructure only but also be pragmatic enough to give priority to the essential needs for toilet usages. Therefore, the Committee strongly recommends the Ministry to prioritize the provision of water availability along with the construction of toilets under SBM and apprise the Committee of actual figures of toilets constructed having water facilities.

Solid and Liquid Waste Management

The Committee notes that the Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) is one of the key components of the programme. To create clean villages, it is essential that the IEC interventions focus on SLWM so as to create a felt need for these activities amongst the rural population. This must lead to the setting up of systems for the scientific disposal of waste in such a way that has a tangible impact on the population.

The Committee is of the view that Solid and Liquid Waste Management in States/UTs has traditionally represented a unique challenge in rural areas, as the practice of open and indiscriminate dumping of solid and liquid waste drive severe public health impacts as well as disrupts ecological indicators. The lack of waste segregation and dispersed population has traditionally proved to be roadblocks in bringing economically viable market-based solutions.

The Committee finds that in the recent past massive uptake of huge number of SLWM works under MGNREGA etc. has been done but overall setting up of Solid and Liquid Waste Management infrastructure has been disappointing.

In view of the above, the Committee feels that our country which is growing at a faster rate also poses new challenges of sanitation. Besides constructing latrines, bringing behavioural changes and achieving ODF etc., the management of Solid and Liquid Waste in rural areas is also a major challenge of sanitation. The Committee find that there are some good examples of solid waste management especially in southern States but Liquid waste management is still an area which is to get the due attention.

The Committee is strongly of the view that lack of safe disposal of waste will create contamination and will persistently pose a threat to the heath and well being. Therefore, the Committee implores upon MDWS to devise new and effective strategies for yielding better results in terms of solid and liquid waste management associated with the SBM (G).

Creation of Job Resources

The Committee while taking note of the nitty-gritties involved in Solid and Liquid Waste Management in regard to the SBM (G) are of the view that there is a huge potential for employment generation associated with this facet of the SBM (G). In accordance with the information provided by the Ministry, there are various avenues for tapping human resources for generating employment along with revenue such as biomass plants, using plastics for road construction and setting up irrigation systems to reuse grey water etc.

The need of the hour is to create due awareness in the rural youths to take up such solid waste management activities through strategic policy measures and, thus, the Committee desire that MDWS formulate new mechanism for pushing through the aim of employment generation under SBM (G) as part of long term sustainability of the Yojana.

Unspent Balances

The Committee finds that during the year 2018-19 (as on 24.05.2018) there was huge unspent balance to the tune of Rs. 9890.84 crore under SBM(G). The Committee are concerned to note that the problem of unspent balance is more prominent in certain States than others under SBM(G). The Committee also finds that States like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh have large amount of unspent balances.

For instance, in Uttar Pradesh Rs. 2836.82 crore, in Bihar Rs. 2764.62 crore, in Madhya Pradesh Rs. 866.68 crore, in Assam Rs. 606.30 crore, in Odisha Rs. 436.71 crore, in Andhra Pradesh Rs. 420.16 crore are lying unspent.

The Committee find broad reasons responsible for unspent balances has been inadequate capacity building at grass root level and existence of revolving funds and leveraging other sources of credit etc. In this connection, the Committee appreciates that Secretary, MoDWS has deposed before the Committee that all these need to be stepped up and MoDWS is working in close coordination with States and have already undertaken visits in different States.

The Committee feels that there is a need to liquidate the huge unspent balance in the above big States by strengthening the implementation constraints and strict monitoring. The Committee also feel that more and more interactions and visits of Secretary, MoDWS are required for liquidating such huge unspent balances in different States. The Committee further recommends the Government that if the State Implementing Agencies are not utilizing the normal allocation, the Central Government may frame out State specific action plan to liquidate the unspent balances.

Release of Central shares

Continuing with the issue of unspent balances getting accrued over a period of time in various States due to plethora of reasons, the Committee have taken serious view of the modalities of disbursement of installment of Central Share to the States while the pile of unspent balances are increasing. The Committee is perplexed as to how this can take place if the installments are not released unless the Utilization Certificates (UCs) are duly received by the Central Government.

Thus, the Committee, strongly recommends that the installments of central share be strictly released in accordance with the guidelines of SBM (G) only after ascertaining the veracity of UCs and use of unspent balances within stipulated time frame by the States. The Committee may also be apprised of the dates of installment releases by the Centre to the States.

Participation of NGOs/Social Organizations

The Government has taken an important initiative towards sanitation through “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” and the aim of the scheme is involvement of each and every person in improvement of sanitation of society by October, 2019. Because sanitation is only possible to improve when each and every strata of society take sanitation as own responsibility. Apart from the role of government, there is a need for participation of other entity also like Non-Government organizations (NGO)/Social Organizations etc. The Committee feel that NGOs could play vital role in promoting sanitation in rural sector thereby routing a proper road map for the purpose.

The Committee, therefore, urges the Government that there is need to accelerate involvement of all social workers, corporate sector as well as other entities like NGOs, individuals, social organisations in creating awareness and achieving universal sanitation coverage among the rural masses.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) under SBM(G)

The Committee are apprised that periodic review meetings, regular video conferencing etc. are organized to review and monitor the progress of SBM(G) and to suggest corrective measures wherever required to achieve physical and financial objectives. Field visits are also undertaken to oversee the implementation of sanitation programmes particularly in the States which are lagging behind.

The Committee is further informed that strict online based monitoring methods have also been adopted to obtain the progress of each District on real time basis using the online monitoring system.

While taking note of the various steps taken by the Ministry to monitor SBM(G), the Committee desire that the existing monitoring mechanism should be further strengthened to achieve the set targets within the prescribed time schedule and also to plug the loopholes detected during such inspections/visits in a time bound manner.

Prepared under Dr P Venugopal (AIADMK), Chairperson, Standing Committee on Rural Development. Download full report HERE


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