- SDMC received the largest number of toilet building applications
- Many applicants mistook the amount allotted as a freebie
- Delhi’s performance in this year’s Swachh Survekshan has been poor
All is not well with Delhi’s Swachh Bharat campaign. The city which is already massively lagging behind in implementing all Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s objectives, from public sanitation to waste management, now has to deal with a series of incorrect applications for the Rs 4,000 provided by the Central government, under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban). Delhi, which has already been under scrutiny ever since the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched has faced a series of problems related to the implementation of the sanitation programme. The Swachh Survekshan 2017 saw the North, South and East Delhi Municipal Corporations faring poorly with rankings of 279, 202 and 196 respectively, and the trend has been no better for Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) ever since.
Together, the three municipal corporations of Delhi have rejected over 70 per cent applications received since May 2017 for construction of individual household toilets. The Central government provides an amount of Rs 4,000 per household for building toilets. The grant is directly provided by the Ministry of Urban Development, once a construction application has been approved by the urban local body (ULB). But MCD officials have cited several issues with the applications. The most common issues found out by MCD have been the lack of adequate space to construct household toilets, lack of an effective sewage system in many households and submission of false information.
“The problem with many applications has been that applicants are more interested in the amount of Rs 4,000 provided by the government than constructing the toilet. This interest often leads them to apply without having proper space or a drainage system for the toilet. In such cases, we have no option but to reject the applications as the money can only be released when the toilet built is functional,” said Mohanjeet Singh, Commissioner, East Delhi Municipal Corporation.
The Swachh Bharat Mission’s urban objectives would have always been a challenge, given how the rise of urban population has been directly proportional to the gradual shrinking of space. In slum areas especially, the MCD has found it difficult to build individual household toilets as most houses barely have space for the residents themselves, let alone toilets. The Ministry of Urban Development designates a minimum area of 1.80 square metres for building a functional toilet and many of Delhi’s residential areas do not meet the requirements.
So far, the three municipal corporations have received a total of 2,312 applications. A bulk of these applications was received by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), totaling 1,905 in number. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) received 378 applications. Only 29 applications were received by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). The sanitation departments of all the three municipal corporations rejected 1,643 applications in total.
The number of rejected cases worried us as well but on further inspection, we realised that most of these applications did not match the SBM guidelines necessary to avail the amount of Rs 4,000. If the basic parameters like having adequate space or a functional sewage system must be present. A large number of applicants thought that merely applying would result in them receiving the money and had no idea about the parameters,” said Puneet Goel, Commissioner, South Delhi Municipal Corporation.
The lack of a functional sewage system has been an irritant for Delhi’s civic bodies and one of the primary reasons for rejection of many applications. Unauthorised colonies and slums in Delhi have little or no access to sewer lines. It was only in February 2017 that the Delhi government started laying sewer lines in five slum colonies. The municipal bodies cannot allow the construction of toilets on lands which have no access to sewer lines. Connecting newly constructed toilets to storm drains would be illegal on the civic bodies’ part. Requests from the EDMC to the residents of a few zones, urging them to contribute towards building a septic tank went unheeded.
The civic body is not just worried about the large number of rejections, but also equally wary of misuse of funds. Unlike Swachh Bharat Gramin, the rules of Swachh Bharat Urban allow the release the allotted amount in two equal instalments for the construction of toilets. MCD officials are worried that post the release of the first instalment, many might utilise the money for purposes other than toilet construction. More than 500 beneficiaries have received the first instalment across all the municipal corporations but the civic bodies said that they will keep a close eye on all the recipients of the first instalment to ensure that the money is utilised for toilet construction only.
Space constraint in urban areas has always been a challenge for municipal corporations. Now with the Swachh Bharat Mission’s deadline coming up, individual toilets will be constructed in urban spaces. The focus should have been more on building more public and community toilets in urban areas rather than household toilets. That way, more people would have access to sanitation and limited space would be utilised, said Sushmita Sengupta, Deputy Programme Manager, Centre for Science and Environment.
A bigger worry for the MCD and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan would be the lack of public awareness related to the campaign. As many in urban clusters are still clueless on the requirements of applications and the necessities of toilet construction, it must be asked whether enough is being done to inform people about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Sanitation experts have pointed out that the mission is focused on targets and deadlines but the excessive focus on these may see compromises in the much discussed behavioural change in sanitation that the mission is trying to bring about.