Go Beyond Rhetoric | Systemic coordination is required for Swachh Bharat

    In one year the Swachh Bharat Mission has created a buzz in the urban areas about the need for sanitation, thanks to an increased spending on advertising, but a systemic plan to clean India is not yet in place, leave alone concrete results on the¬†ground. One of Narendra Modi’s key projects, it is not much different from Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and the Total Sanitation Campaign of the past. With his cultivated gift for marketing, the PM has managed to bring the subject to national attention. Rhetoric apart, the Modi government reduced the budgetary spending for the clean India campaign from Rs 4,260 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 2,625 crore in the latest budget, hoping to meet the funding gap through a Swachh Bharat cess and corporate social responsibility contributions, and by coaxing states to chip in. This makes the fund flow uncertain.

    Secondly, there is no assessment of the magnitude of the challenge. The only data available for Swachh Bharat is about the number of toilets built and the money spent. Of the six crore toilets constructed in the past one year, 1.3 crore are defunct, according to media reports. Other requirements like sewerage, waste treatment and disposal, and water supply have not been made available along with toilets. To provide end-to-end solutions, coordination is important among various Central and state departments. The Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation looks after sanitation in the rural areas and the Ministry of Urban Development in the urban areas, while the HRD Ministry builds toilets in schools. There are separate plans for smart cities and smart villages. All these require coordination and the pooling of resources.

    Concepts of sanitation are deeply rooted in a society’s cultural values. However, public health experts are unanimous that sanitation, or lack of it, is linked to infant mortality, malnutrition, cognitive development and economic productivity. Three lakh children are lost to diarrhea every year. States have yet to realize the importance of sanitation. It is treated as a Central hobby-horse. Even the BJP-ruled states have not shown particular enthusiasm for the PM’s pet project.

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