New Delhi: On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the occasion of the launch of the ambitious pan India cleanliness mission Swachh Bharat Abhiyan stressed on the construction of more toilets across the country. The Prime Minister said that women forced to relieve themselves in the open were the worst victims of lack of proper sanitation facilities, and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will look to address this particular problem. Nearly four years since its launch, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has transformed into a people’s campaign and sanitation, especially across rural India, has witnessed drastic transformation. With over 8 crore toilets built in the last four years, the mission’s goal of improving rural sanitation has progressed well, but not without a few bumps and hiccups. Improving sanitation facilities of urban India has also been on the radar of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and while several cities have shown significant improvement in eradicating open defecation and managing their waste better, much work remains to be done.
Achievement Unlocked: Four Years Of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
A mission as magnanimously scaled as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan had multiple objectives, and many of them have been achieved during the last four years. Across rural India, sanitation coverage stands at 93 per cent, with over 8.4 crore toilets constructed. With 38.70 per cent rural sanitation coverage in 2014 before the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) began, India had one of the highest number of people in the world defecating in the open (53 crore). In four years of the mission, the number of people defecating in the open has come down to 25 crore, as per a survey conducted by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation earlier this year. Some of India’s largest states, namely Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu have managed to declare their rural areas open defecation free (ODF). Over 4.5 lakh villages and 453 districts have also become ODF, signaling progress on the mission’s rural front. Rural areas of 16 states are presently ODF, as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan enters its final year.
The mission’s urban counterpart, under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has also tasted success, albeit on a lesser scale than SBM rural. Rapidly growing cities with little individual spaces have made it difficult for households to build individual toilets, but SBM urban is concentrating on building public and community toilets to ensure that sanitation coverage in urban India improves. Over 2,900 cities in India have declared themselves ODF, as announced by Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in July this year. 50 lakh individual toilets have been built under SBM urban till now. Waste management, an integral part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has also been prioritised by SBM urban and several urban municipal corporations have streamlined waste management, focusing on segregation, waste collection and composting. The Swachh Survekshan, an annual survey which ranks cities on the basis of cleanliness and sanitation, surveyed over 4,000 cities this year, and cities like Indore, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Greater Mumbai and Mysuru performed very well, securing top ranks for cleanliness, waste management and providing access to safe sanitation.
Swachh Bharat Rural: Toilets, Behavioural Change And Sustainability
Prioritised from day one, increasing rural sanitation coverage has been the key goal of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. States such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu which today boast of 100 per cent rural sanitation coverage had less than 50 per cent coverage till 2014. Across rural India, administrations worked with local people and NGOs, volunteers and civil society workers to get across the message of the mission. Success stories from rural areas across India showed how courage, grit and determination to build toilets have been exemplary for the sanitation mission. Be it women in Rajasthan’s Dungarpur who took no help from the men in their district to eradicate open defecation, or a sanitation crusader in Chittoor who spread awareness from door-to-door to build more than 500 toilets and make his village ODF.
When Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is called a people’s movement, the recognition is true on various levels. Since it began on October four years back, we have seen a level of participation from people that were unexpected. Everyone likes safe sanitation but earlier low awareness on sanitation had been the major barrier for people. With assistance from government and awareness spread on the national and local level, safe sanitation has also become a priority for people living in rural areas, said Arun Baroka, Joint Secretary, Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).
While increase in sanitation coverage and number of toilets in rural India is impressive, bringing in large scale behavioural change is now the primary agenda of the mission’s rural wing. Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation Secretary, Parameswaran Iyer in July this year said that without behavioural change, sustaining rural ODF statuses would not be possible. To ensure this, the Ministry has specifically asked ODF states to continue awareness programmes on sanitation, so that states can gradually make the transition from ODF to ODF plus (a category where an ODF village/city is adept at solid and liquid waste management). With 8.4 of the 9 crore toilets built in rural India, ensuring that they are utilised well by people is the next important focus on for SBM rural.
Swachh Bharat Urban And The Complications Of Waste Management
While construction of toilets and ending the practice of open defecation are key goals of SBM, building a cleaner and healthier India in the longer run is what the mission aims to achieve. For Swachh Bharat’s urban wing, the focus is equally on encouraging and planning towards proper waste management. While over 50 lakh individual toilets have been constructed across India’s cities and urban local bodies (ULBs) against a target of 2 crore, 67,000 wards have managed to achieve 100 per cent door-to-door collection and 15 lakh tonnes of waste has been concerted to compost. Both sanitation and waste management are however facing stiff challenges and SBM urban has taken multiple steps over four years to address them.
As mentioned earlier, encroachment, small spaces and urban slums make it difficult for ULBs to construct individual household toilets. Many cities have become instrumental towards constructing public and community toilets at a gap of every 3 to 4 kilometres so that people have access to safe and clean sanitation spaces, and bid adieu to open defecation. Cities like Indore, Mysuru, Bhopal, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Navi Mumbai have followed this model of constructing public toilets, making signage on location of public toilets available to people and encouraging people to use them regularly. Apart from public toilets and individual ones, many cities have adopted innovations such as mobile toilets and e-toilets to provide access to safe sanitation to people. While a completely ODF urban India is still a daunting dream to achieve, steps taken by ULBs to provide easier access to safe sanitation is gaining ground.
For Swachh Bharat Urban to succeed, public and community toilets will have a crucial role to play. With expanding cities, state of the art public toilets will cater to the sanitation needs of a large group of people simultaneously. From the beginning, we have requested ULBs to build and maintain community and public toilets so that more people can use them and do not revert to open defecation, said Durga Shanker Mishra, Secretary, Housing and Urban Affairs.
Given that India generates over 100,000 tonnes of waste daily, the government’s focus to manage waste in cities has also become an important agenda for SBM. The government has promoted waste segregation on a massive scale, and dignitaries from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Vice-President Venkaiyah Naidu have promoted waste segregation. Many ULBs have handed out colour-coded bins to their constituencies to encourage them to segregate waste. Municipal bodies have also undertaken building of waste-to-energy plants, sewage treatment plants and using technological innovations such as suction pumps and auto tippers to change the methods of waste collection and treatment in India.
“There is no doubt that much remains to be done on the waste front, but we are glad that both civic bodies and people are gradually become more conscious about how waste will be treated. Be it waste from households or from factories, the consciousness related to its proper disposal is gradually becoming popular. In the coming years, scientific waste management will become a more popular across the country, and our waste production will also come down, along with dependency on landfills,” said Mr Mishra.
Road Ahead For A Swachh Bharat
Toilets are being built, rallies and awareness camps on waste segregation are being held and promotions on toilets and waste management are on full swing. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has become the widest and visible campaign related to sanitation that the country has ever witnessed. But as it enters its final year, how long and smooth is the road ahead for the Abhiyan, particularly once it reaches its deadline of October 2019. Many experts feel that limiting such a campaign within a time period of five years would be unfair, as the goals are too ambitious to be met within five years.
The Swachh Bharat Mission is the biggest sanitation and cleanliness campaign India has seen. But while toilets are being built, the government must consider multiple factors related to the mission. How many people are using the toilets, why is open defecation continuing in some ODF cities or villages, are people getting adequate water supply in areas where toilets are being built are some of the pertinent questions related to the Abhiyan that are still unclear. These must be addressed without the pressure of a deadline for the sanitation campaign to actually sustain itself for the future, said Sushmita Sengupta, Programme Manager, Water and Sanitation, Centre for Science and Environment.
Despite its success, there are some concern areas which require immediate attention and planning for long-term solutions. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has barely addressed the issue of manual scavenging, as deaths due to manual cleaning of sewers has continued even into the fourth year of the Abhiyan. The government’s planned survey to identify manual scavengers in the country missed its April 2018 deadline, and manual scavengers’ part to be played in this national cleanliness mission remains uncertain. Practising of open defecation due to factors such as lack of water, unclean public toilets are areas both SBM urban and rural must address to bring in long-term behavioural change.
Waste, India’s mounting problem will also take a scientific and sustained approach to be dealt with. Casual waste disposal in landfills, roads, rivers and lakes continues across the country and if this is to change, people must be made aware about the hazards of casual waste disposal, along with being provided with solutions for scientific waste management. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been called a people’s movement, but if it is to transition itself into a pan-Indian cleanliness mission, every problem related to sanitation and cleanliness must be probed and solved thoroughly, and cannot be done within a time frame of merely five years.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.
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