Clean India Campaign

Tardy progress

Print edition : December 11, 2015

A clogged drain abutting Gandhi Hill in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, where VVIPs gathered on October 2 to participate in a Swachh Bharat programme. Photo: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

One year after the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission, it is clear that the mission is still a long way from meeting its targets and that its approach to the problems of providing sanitation are inadequate.

THE Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is one of the much touted flagship programmes of the National Democratic Alliance government and was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year on October 2. Its aim is to provide 100 per cent sanitation coverage and eradicate open defecation in rural India by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Ministry of Urban Development’s latest progress report (October 2015) on the status of implementation by State governments of the various components of the SBM shows that in both urban and rural India not only have the coverage and use of individual and community toilets been tardy but the work of waste collection, disposal and treatment has also not progressed sufficiently. This was despite the fact that in the financial year 2015-16, rural sanitation accounted for 58 per cent of the total allocation to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. But allocations as a whole went down by 48 per cent —from Rs.12,096 crore in 2014-15 to Rs.6,231 crore for 2015-16.

According to Accountability Initiative, the research and analytical wing of the Centre for Policy Research, the Central government had sanctioned only 33 per cent of the total allocations to the States until February 2015. Despite 90 per cent of SBM expenditure in 2014-15 being on construction activities, the progress in terms of the total number of individual and community toilets constructed was not substantial. Delays in the sanctioned amount reaching the States was cited as a reason for this. Besides, beneficiaries deemed the Rs.12,000 pegged as the total cost of construction for a toilet for individual homes as inadequate.

Anganwadi workers from Haryana told Frontline that individual homes did not have space for toilets and that the lack of a guaranteed water supply was another reason people still chose to defecate in the open. “The poor who have tiny dwellings, mostly with one room, have to use that space for cooking, cleaning and washing. It is impossible to imagine having a latrine in the same space where the hearth burns,” said a worker for the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme. She also said that in the absence of underground sewers, septic tanks were required but the cost of constructing one would itself go far beyond the Rs.12,000 sanctioned for toilet construction. “People cannot be expected to build toilets without adequate space in their homes, or in the absence of sewer lines or septic tanks constructed by the government. That is one reason why they are compelled to defecate in the open,” she said.

Residents of a slum-cum-resettlement cluster in east Delhi told Frontline that the community toilets, which a private agency maintains, were filthy and they found it unviable to use them more than once a day because of the user fees. “We earn up to Rs.100-150 a day with much difficulty. If we have to spend Rs.40-50 each day for using the toilet, it is a big drag on our incomes. So our children and women squat by the roadsides and the drains in the early morning to relieve themselves,” said a rickshaw-puller. “These facilities have to be free. In the markets and parks maintained by the NDMC [New Delhi Municipal Council], these services seem to be free and therefore more people use them,” said Virender Gaur, vice-president of the Delhi Jal Board Union.

According to the progress report, of the total 31,71,936 applications received from across the country for construction of individual household toilets, work had commenced in 17,69,819 and was completed only in 5,37,338. Of the 1,06,543 community and public toilets sanctioned, only 27,134 had been completed. The figures for door-to-door collection of garbage in urban wards was pretty low. Of the country’s 78,660 wards, 100 per cent door-to-door collection had been undertaken in 32,292 wards only. The figure for solid waste processing showed that only a meagre 17.82 per cent of the 1,45,085 tonnes of solid waste collected every day was processed. Waste processing was as low as 10 per cent in States like Maharashtra, which generate the highest amount of waste in the country in a day. Not even in relatively developed Gujarat was waste processing anywhere near the 50 per cent mark.

Changing mindsets

According to Census 2011, 69 per cent of the people in rural India do not have toilets; a baseline survey the SBM conducted in 2012 confirmed this, pegging the figure at 61 per cent. The 69th Round of the National Sample Survey (NSS)—conducted from July to December 2012 and titled “Key Indicators of Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition in India”—surveyed people to understand why they practised open defecation. All the respondents interviewed in Himachal Pradesh blamed it on insufficient water supply and dirty or malfunctioning toilets. In Haryana and Karnataka, the respondents cited personal preference. Over 60 per cent of respondents in Assam said that it was the absence of superstructure that compelled them to opt for open defecation. This effectively busts the myth that mindset is the motivating factor behind the practice of open defecation. However, it is intriguing that the overarching leitmotif of the SBM is information, education and communication campaigns in both rural and urban areas that place a huge emphasis on “individual behaviour change”. The message from Union Minister for Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs M. Venkaiah Naidu that scrolls across the website of the SBM for urban India says: “Swachh Bharat was less about building toilets and more about changing the mindsets and acknowledging the right of everyone to a clean and healthy environment.” On October 7, Union Minister of Rural Development Chaudhary Birender Singh spoke about “innovative thinking” to stop the practice of open defecation while launching a coffee table book on sanitation “champions”. The SBM for rural India plans to free six lakh villages in 2.5 lakh gram panchayats of open defecation. The target for 2014-15 was making 42,828 gram panchayats open defecation free, but as of July 2015, only 12,216 had reached that status. Verifying these claims is also a challenge.

While there cannot be much dispute about the need to change mindsets, it cannot be ignored that the hyperbole around the Clean India mission emphasises individual rather than state responsibility. Its focus is therefore a narrow one, with the emphasis on the need for a collective conscience to clean up the country. Changing mindsets has become a catchphrase to justify the inefficacy of the outreach of government programmes.

The focus does not seem to be on collection and disposal of solid waste. The latest gimmick of both the Delhi and Union governments to “involve” people in collaborative governance is to encourage them to download an “app” that can be used to send photographs of accumulated garbage, which Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal promises will get cleaned through the joint efforts of the government, the municipal department and the Union Urban Development Ministry. The Chief Minister announced via radio that Venkaiah Naidu would inaugurate a week-long, collaborative clean-up campaign in Delhi with the public starting on November 22.

On the face of it, all these efforts appear to be aimed at getting people involved in the clean India campaign and projecting the government as being “people-friendly”, but it boils down to a complete abdication on the part of both the State and Central governments to undertake the monitoring of the campaign that they are legitimately responsible for. Limiting the discourse to immediate clean-up measures and confining it to the sporadic campaign mode obfuscate the fact that the collection and disposal mechanism and the manpower at the disposal of both the State and Central governments are inadequate to make the Clean India or Clean Delhi drives effective.

Additionally, it ignores the need to meet the legitimate demands of the sanitation workers, both permanent and contractual, for better working conditions and emoluments (story on page 104). The rate of accidents involving sanitation workers and the related safety and health issues never seem to be a priority area for the Union or State governments. In Badshahpur village, Gurgaon, Frontline met a widowed Dalit woman who lost her only son to the noxious fumes in a sewage drain he had gone down to clean. He was the only earning member in her family. Her sole source of income is a meagre government pension, and she is able to live only because of the beneficence of her neighbours. She did not receive any compensation for her son’s death in the “line of duty”.

SBM Cess

A cess ostensibly meant to raise money for the programme, which was announced in the Union Budget, became effective from November 15. At a rate of 0.5 per cent, the cess will take the overall service tax rate to 14.5 per cent and is expected to raise Rs.3,800 crore. This will cumulatively add to the tax burden of consumers and taxpayers. Industry too has not reacted very favourably to the move. The implementation of the cess was announced at end of the campaigning for the Bihar Assembly elections. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and others criticised the levy of the cess, saying that the government should make public how much was spent on advertising the SBM with the Prime Minister’s photographs. “Who will benefit from the cess? The permanent sanitation workers who have been on strike for the last one month for their DA arrears and medical benefits or the contractual sanitation workers who are forced to continue working even as their colleagues are on strike?” asked Gaur of the Delhi Jal Board Union. The Jal Board is responsible for the treatment and supply of drinking water to Delhi and also manages the city’s sewerage system. Its decision to hand over work to untrained workers hired through private contractors has dealt a severe blow to its functioning. In areas where 150 workers are needed, it is working with half that number. “The idea is to extract maximum labour with minimal resources,” said Gaur. The deterioration has happened over the years.

In the 1990s, there were more than 30,000 permanent employees —now the figure is almost half that even as workload has gone up. Gaur said that the death of a valve operator, 22-year-old Vinay Sirohi, employed on contract in Delhi’s Keshopur Sewage Treatment Plant showed how the drive for sanitation was a sham and only meant for photo opportunities for Ministers and others. The more than two-decade-old plant is one among three major sewage treatment plants in the capital. It treats 40 million gallons of liquid waste every day but does not have a single permanent Jal Board employee on its rolls. Sirohi, who did not have any safety gear such as gumboots, helmet, mask or gloves on his person, died of asphyxiation.

“It is a shame that in a place like Delhi someone should have to get down in a sewer and die like this. The rescue workers were given new gloves and gear to get him out of the pipe, which meant that even the rescue workers did not have such gear ready at hand,” he said, adding that no one was made accountable when such accidents took place. The standard operating procedure of the administration was to give some compensation and a job to a member of the family of the deceased. Delhi is at present surrounded by mountains of garbage at three places that are designated landfill sites. A biogas plant in Okhla ran into trouble as local residents complained about the foul smell emanating from it.

The NSS’ 69th Round showed that a person in rural India spent on an average of 20 minutes a day to fetch drinking water and that only 32.3 per cent and 54.4 per cent of households in rural and urban India had access to treated water. Nearly 62.3 per cent of rural and 16.7 per cent of urban India had no separate bathrooms. Also, 49.9 per cent of households in rural India and 12.5 per cent of households in urban areas did not have any drainage system; 58.7 per cent of households in rural India had disposed of waste water without treatment to “low land areas” compared with 15.9 per cent of households in urban India. An estimated 31 per cent of slums, notified and non-notified, had no drainage system. The municipal corporation arranged for garbage disposal only in 62 per cent of all slums, the frequency of which was erratic.

It is evident the current approach to sanitation, focussing as it does on mindset changes and the collaborative effort of civil society, is far from adequate. Not only is the concept narrow, it is also divorced from the realities of household dwellings where the average floor area does not go beyond 40 square metres.

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