- Budget 2018 reduced SBM’s allocation to Rs 17,843 crore from 19,248 crore
- Swachh Bharat Urban’s allocation was increase by Rs 200 crore
- The government targets to build 2 crore toilets by next year
New Delhi: It was business as usual across the country of February 1, 2018, as the Union Budget 2018 was tabled by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Ministries awaited their respective allocations. As the Finance Minister spoke at length during the presentation of what was effectively the last budget before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Swachh Bharat Mission found a positive mention in the Minister’s speech. Lauding the progress made under the mission, Mr Jaitley said the construction of over 6 crore toilets was completed and the government was looking to construct 2 crore toilets in the next financial year. The praise given to the Abhiyan however, did not translate to adequate monetary allocation as in the first instance since the programme began in 2014, there was a dip in budgetary allocation.
In the Union Budget 2018, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was allocated a total of Rs 17,843 crore compared to last year’s allocation of Rs 19,248 crore. Swachh Bharat Gramin, the rural wing of the sanitation programme has been allocated Rs 15,343 crore compared to last year’s Rs 16,948 crore. Swachh Bharat Urban’s allocation for the financial year 2018-19 is marginally more, from Rs 2,300 crore last year to Rs 2,500 crore this year. But the question remains, how does the government plan to achieve an open defecation free India with a reduced budget for the rural wing of the sanitation programme?
One of the reasons for the budgetary reduction could be that the sanitation coverage has come up considerably in the last four years, and that the government is confident that by the next financial year, it can complete the target of making rural India open defecation free. In 2015-16, the government constructed 1.25 crore toilets but the very next year, it constructed 2.18 crore toilets. It could be that more than two crore toilets are constructed by the government in the next two years to meet the ODF target, said Madhavi Sharma, Senior Programme Manager at India Sanitation Coalition.
But construction of toilets is not akin to people using them. Sanitation experts are of the opinion that if the mission is nearing its target of completing the construction of toilets, then expenditure should be diverted towards bringing in behavioural change as reports of open defecation from certain areas keep coming in. In October 2017, Water Aid released a report which claimed that several villages across many states were yet to become ODF. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation was quick to point out that the report took into account survey conducted in areas before 2015. But the expenditure for information, education and communication (IEC) activities in 2017-18 was a measly Rs 200.70 crore, 1.87 per cent of the Centre’s share of expenditure, which was Rs 10,678.49 crore.
The low expenditure in IEC is a matter of concern, because expenditure in IEC activities translates to more people understanding why sanitation is important, how toilet usage can translate to better health and economy and how to maintain toilets. A lower budget for Swachh Bharat rural means that even lower amount would be spent on IEC activities, which does not bode well for the mission in the future, said Narendra Mishra, Senior Programme Coordinator of Rural Sanitation at WASH Alliance, India.
The nominal increase of Rs 200 crore for Swachh Bharat Urban may also not be enough for the urban wing of the mission. Till date, against a target of 1.08 crore toilets in urban areas, only 40 lakh have been built. Places with concentrated urban populations, such as slums witness the most instances of open defecation and toilets every 500 metres remain a distant dream for many.
Amidst the praise for rural sanitation, the need for urban sanitation seems to have been forgotten. There is an urgent need to build more public toilets in cities and funding crunches for municipalities is resulting in not enough toilets being built, as open defecation continues. There is no doubt that a number of toilets have been built under Swachh Bharat, but the funding pattern in three years has remained complicated, which makes an increase of mere Rs 200 crore redundant, said Akhila Sivadas, Managing Trustee and Executive Director, Centre for Advocacy and Research.
The urban wing of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has a mission outlay of Rs 62,000 crore, of which the Union government’s share is Rs 14,623 crore and the total share of the state governments amount to Rs 4,874 crore. The rest of the amount is to be borne by the participation of private companies and donations. The urban mission’s dependency on private players has resulted in municipalities suffering from lack of funds and delay in construction of public toilets. An increase in the amount allocated for SBM (urban) will help in the speeding up building of toilets in cities.
The urban sanitation plan is still not well executed, primarily because municipal corporations are not getting enough funds. Considering the urban populations and number of toilets to be built, the Central government’s allocation is too low. It should be increased, said a Ministry of Housing Affairs official.
Overall, budget 2018 has not much to offer to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, apart from the initial praise for the movement by the Finance Minister. All eyes will be on this year’s progress under the sanitation programme and how close the government comes to meet the target, despite a reduced budget and an underwhelming performance in the programme’s urban wing.