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Why The Road Ahead For Swachh Bharat Mission Is A Tough One For Urban India?

With a planned budget of Rs. 62,000 crores, the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) plans to construct 1.2 crore household toilets and 2,50,000 public toilets by 2019

Swachh Bharat Urban
  • The urban wing of Swachh Bharat mission aims to build 1.2 crore toilets
  • Outdated infrastructure and space crunch are hindrance for the mission
  • Public-private partnerships are necessary to bear the total cost

The problem of open defecation, the eradication of which is the primary objective of The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is problem that is not confined to just rural India. India has the world’s largest urban population of 41 million people defecating in the open, a record no country can be proud of. While implementation of total sanitation remains a huge challenge in rural India, there are some serious problems on the urban sanitation front which need to be tackled to make Swachh Bharat a success across India’s geography. Here are some major issues that are proving to be a roadblocks to fulfilling Urban India’s Swachh dreams.

Where is The Space?

Urban metros and towns in India lack space. The task of constructing toilets in cities and towns with already limited space is an arduous one and urban civic bodies are often struggling to find enough space to build toilets. Especially in metros like Delhi, Pune and Mumbai, construction of individual household toilets is a big challenge due to the presence of numerous unauthorised colonies and slums. Many of these households are not owned properties and are constructed in areas less than 120 square foot, thus eliminating any chance of a toilet being constructed in such households. The urban Indian population is also continuously on the rise, and is expected to add 500 million more by 2040, according to the United Nations, increasing the urban population to 830 million from the current 330 million.

Space crunch is a recurring problem in Indian urban cities

Space crunch is a recurring problem in Indian urban cities

Amidst this space crunch in urban India, where and how does the scenario of building toilets fit in? The Ministry of Urban Development has stressed on the building of more public toilets in cities so that people who do not have access to individual household toilets can access these. For slum and colony residents, municipal bodies such as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has proposed the installation of mobile toilets which would be movable and would not require a permanent structure like a public toilet. Building more public toilets is presently a feasible solution to ensure that space crunch in urban spaces doesn’t force people to defecate in the open.

Where Are The Funds?

The Swachh Bharat Mission Urban or SBM (U) is supposed to cost Rs. 62,000 crores, of which one-fourth will be borne by the Union Government and the rest by the state governments and the local municipal bodies. The last bit of the contribution remains the trickiest part, as municipal bodies often cite unavailability of funds. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi for example, was unable to begin work on any Swachh Bharat related projects last year, as their part of the financial contribution could not be provided on time. Another problem with the SBM (U) guidelines is that while Rs. 4,000 is provided to individual households for construction, there is no Central funding for public toilets.

In 2016, the Union Government tried to make some amends to tackle this major flaw in the Swachh Bharat scheme. The Ministry of Finance, approved extension of 40 per cent viability gap funding to make up for the shortfall for construction of public toilets and urinals, ensuring an increase of nearly 75 per cent financial assistance.

This mid-course correction could be helpful in tackling the financial crunch which has prevented many urban civic bodies from constructing public toilets and urinals in full swing since the campaign began.

Where are the Sewage Systems and Piped Water Supply?

What could be worse than non-existent sewage systems? Outdated sewage systems which dump sewage directly to water bodies. Most Indian urban metros thrive on sewage systems which are constructed decades ago and still follow the pattern of carrying sewage directly to rivers or canals. 70 per cent of India’s urban sewage remains untreated. Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are more of bane than boons for India’s waste treatment initiatives, as 294 of India’s 816 STPs remain dysfunctional. Even regular water supply remains a distant pipe dream in urban India, as no Indian city provides 24×7 water supply to its residents. Only 49 per cent urban Indian households have access to piped water supply. Amidst outdated sewage systems and irregular piped water supply, the dream of a Swachh Bharat does dwindle down.

Piped water supply is still scarce in many urban spaces in India

Piped water supply is still scarce in many urban spaces in India

The states have been given a deadline of 2022 to restructure urban pipelines and ensure that the sewage is directed to STPs. By 2019, all urban households will have drinking water supply. We have been regularly in touch with all state governments to ensure that they are able to convey the deadline to civic bodies, said Gopal Jha, Deputy Secretary, Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).

Under SBM (U) 62 new STPs have already been proposed and work on their construction has begun, all scheduled to be operational by 2018. Effective sewage treatment systems in urban areas will ensure that there are adequate systems in place to handle the sewage generated by India’s urban populace. The shortlisted 27 Smart Cities under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission will have ultra-modern drainage and sewage systems, which would lead the sewage directly to STPs for segregation and treatment.

Difficulty in Reaching Out

Rural India is still fond of her songs, dances and plays and Swachh Bharat officials have roped in several performance artists to spread the cleanliness message using these tropes with effectiveness. Urban India’s fast paced life and availability of alternate sources of entertainment for people has seen lesser interest and implementation of cultural programs which attempt to engage in dialogue on India’s cleanliness scenario. Availability of advertisements and wall graffiti have not necessarily translated to behavioural change in the urban population and that is a cause of worry for concerned officials.

We encourage wall paintings and street plays which talk about Swachh Bharat. We have also held competitions in schools and colleges, asking students to pen and perform plays about the cleanliness drive. But we have no proper mechanism to monitor whether such skits have any effect on people who watch them, said Mr. Jha.

Since the Swachh Bharat Mission has an already allocated budget of Rs. 1,800 crore on public awareness, the Union Government should look at adopting innovative ways to reach out to people and observe behavioural change. Similar to Swachhta Doots employed in rural areas, a likewise programme which utilises the services of trained individuals to spread awareness on total sanitation will work well for urban India.


The sanitation challenges in urban India differ from the rural ones on several fronts. Problems of space, demographics, behaviour and finance are common to both urban and rural India but the nature of each of these problems differ as the habitations change from rural to urban. To ensure holistic success of Swachh Bharat, urban sanitation problems must be addressed during the tenure of Swachh Bharat to ensure total sanitation for all. Building of more public toilets and a proper solid waste management programme are the key issues which are to be tackled for the urban wing of Swachh Bharat to flourish.

Urbanisation in India since the country’s independence went ahead without proper planning, except for a few stray cases. One of the biggest problems the major urban spaces in India today face is outdated infrastructure, be it waste management or sewage. The rapid increase of slums and decrease in available spaces has also resulted in problems related to health and sanitation. More public toilets will ensure that a larger section of the urban population has access to sanitation facilities. The budget required to revamp urban India’s sewage and waste management systems can come only via public-private partnerships because the cost is too high to bear for a single body, said Kulwant Singh, Founder-Director, 3R Waste Foundation.

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