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Making India clean, healthy

Making India clean, healthy
Improved access to sanitation, together with good hygiene and access to safe water, are fundamental to good health, and social and economic development. Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of India’s 68th Independence Day in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The poor need respect and it begins with cleanliness. I, therefore, have to launch a ‘Clean India’ campaign from 2nd October this year and carry it forward in four years.” The Prime Minister had to take up this agenda personally in order to kick-start the process of achieving a Swachh Bharat (Clean India) in a short time frame of five years--by October 2, 2019. 

In response to the Prime Minister’s call, the Government of India launched its Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014, to accelerate efforts towards achieving universal sanitation coverage, improve cleanliness and eliminate open defecation in India by 2019.  The programme is considered India’s biggest drive to improve sanitation, hygiene, and cleanliness in the country.  The emphasis is on behaviour change intervention including interpersonal communication; strengthening implementation and delivery mechanisms down to the village level; and giving states flexibility to design delivery mechanisms that take into account local cultures, practices, sensibilities, and demands. 

The progress in sanitation has witnessed a spurt, since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission. It is heartening to note that during these 15 months since the launch of the mission, more than 14.1 million rural households and around 0.6 million households in the urban areas have gained access to the satisfactory levels of improved sanitation facilities. This gain of additional access has resulted in the rise of sanitation coverage by about 9 percentage points since 2012. Sanitation coverage, which stood at 40.60 percent as per the National Sample Survey Organisation Report of 2012, has increased to around 49.30 percent. Keeping in view that India is still home to over 59 percent of open defecators globally, we have a long way to go. I am also acutely aware of the fact that improvement in access to sanitation in our country has a tremendous impact on the global scenario. This increases our resolve and commitment to address the issue urgently, comprehensively and sustainably.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Bangladesh to take part in the South Asian Conference on Sanitation, where I met the Heads of water sanitation sector of the neighbouring countries. In this conference, I was impressed to learn that Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in achieving freedom from open defecation. They have done this by following a community approach for bringing in the changes in behaviour.  In Swachh Bharat Mission also, we are trying to emphasise on behaviour change by mobilising communities. Although, the government provides an incentive of Rs. 12000 to the households that build and use toilets, I want to reiterate that Swachh Bharat Mission is not merely a programme for the construction of toilets. 

The focus of the mission is on behaviour change and sustainability of toilet usage with focus on achieving open defecation free (ODF) communities for holistic health outcomes. This involves a collective behavioural change of the entire community through intensive triggering and follow-up. suffice to say, changing age-old habits is a stupendous task. However, we understand its importance for the health benefits, as well as for the sustainability of the programme. The uniform parameters of ODF have been defined so that there is a common understanding of the term across the country. Guidelines for ODF verification have also been issued to ensure capturing of right outcomes. Over 38000 villages in the country have declared themselves as ODF and are demanding more services for further improvement in village sanitation infrastructure. 

Once a community is triggered and ready to change the open defecation scenario, the supply side issues - masons, sanitary fittings, construction materials, technology and financing options, availability of water for toilet use etc. - become very important. Those supply-side issues must be addressed in a time-bound manner. Moreover, this throws a great business opportunity for the enterprises to address these supply side issues in a timely and efficient manner. 

To augment the resources for this mission, the government has been tapping into other sources of financing over and above the budgetary route. The Swachh Bharat Kosh, which has been set up for channelising CSR resources and donations, is now showing good collections. Some of its resources are being channelised to ensure access to toilets to those families whose toilets provided under earlier sanitation programs have turned defunct, to cover the last mile in achieving the ODF status. The 0.5 percent Swachhta cess will augment budgetary resources further. A scheme to incentivise States for their efforts towards achieving outcomes like sanitation coverage, ODF villages and solid and liquid waste management provision to be decided annually through a sanitation sample survey is being operationalised with the World Bank support. With a multi-pronged strategy, I am confident that the programme will have enough resources needed to achieve the goals. The government is trying to focus on evaluating the actual outcomes and promoting cross sharing of best practices between the States. The programme has a strong thrust on equity and focuses on the marginalised and hard to reach societies.  

The Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya campaign, a component of the Mission, which aimed to provide separate toilets for girls and boys in all remaining schools  within one year achieved remarkable success, and the targets were fully achieved with 4,17,796 toilets added to 2,61,400 Government Elementary and Secondary schools during the one-year period from August 15, 2014 to same day in 2015. This was achieved by a combination of efforts of the government, public sector, corporate and private contributions. 

As this nationwide movement has entered the second year of its launch, there are renewed efforts in not only sustaining the momentum achieved in the first year, but also multiplying the efforts towards a deepened understanding and deployment of community processes, strengthening of implementation capacities, promoting innovations in addressing various social and technical challenges and continuing the focus on sustainability of outcomes. With the emergence of new open defecation free villages and communities, there would be much greater demand for solid and liquid waste management which is a real opportunity for the businesses and governments. We need to look into the issue more closely and intensively to find cost effective and socially sustainable solutions for management of waste to make our villages clean in the true sense. 

Sanitation and water go hand in hand as access to good quality water for drinking, cooking, toilet use, and hand washing is the sine qua non for achieving the cleanliness in a sustainable manner. The Government of India in coordination with States is working towards providing every rural household, a minimum of 40 litres per capita per day of safe drinking water on a sustained basis under the umbrella of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

As of now 85 percent of water supply systems are dependent on the conventional harnessing of ground water. The paradigm shift is now to identify and utilise surface-based water sources and build piped-supply schemes from such sources. Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan have already planned water grids to provide drinking water to all rural houses from safe surface sources through mega schemes, funded by external international agencies like World Bank, JICA and domestic sources like NABARD and HUDCO.  Other states are also coming forward and we hope to reverse the trend of extraction of ground water to the surface sources in times to come. The government also aims to provide individual taps to bring womenfolk out of the drudgery of carrying water from distances.

Additionally, for more remote, tribal and insurgency-affected areas that are still without electrification, we are collaborating with National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) to provide solar-based dual pump water supply schemes. Those schemes will ensure health and hygiene in such areas. About ten thousand solar-based piped water supply schemes have already been provided in insurgency-affected areas in nine States.

Another endeavour of the Government is to strengthen water quality testing laboratories in the States to identify and take appropriate action against contaminated drinking water sources. We are also working in close collaboration with Central Ground Water Board and National Remote Sensing Centre for leveraging the use of space technology in precisely locating drinking water sources and monitoring water supply schemes remotely.

Gram Panchayats are being involved in ownership and Operation & Maintenance of water supply systems. Around seven thousand three hundred community-based water purification plants have been set up to provide safe drinking water in quality-affected habitations with nominal user charges.

India is committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 6 that calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. 

In conclusion, the effort of our nation to clean itself has drawn global attention and achieving the goals of Swachh Bharat by 2019 will make India not only clean but a healthy and sporty nation which would be the most befitting tribute to the Father of Nation on his 150th anniversary.

(Birender Singh is Minister of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water & Sanitation, Government of India. Views expressed are strictly personal)
Birender Singh

Birender Singh

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