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Working Without Funds: Does The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Need To Relook At Its Funding Mechanism For NGOs?

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s funding mechanism works on a sharing basis between the Centre and the respective state governments

  • The Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister had promised funds to Waste Warriors
  • The funding mechanism of Swachh Bharat has no provision for NGOs
  • NGOs doing considerable work in sanitation and waste management

When the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh promised Waste Warriors founder Jodie Underhill, that he would fund her Dharamsala project, the waste crusader was overjoyed, as the promise seemed to finally begin the end of funding woes for the organisation. The Dharamsala team, who run a rural door to door waste collection and maintain the cleanliness of a number of tourist destinations, including the famous Triund mountain camp stared at a deficit of Rs. 15 lakhs but had hoped the project would be revived with the government’s donation. On meeting with the Chief Minister, Jodie delivered a two-page funding document, containing a brief on the Dharamsala project and the organisation’s work. Soon after a post appeared on the Chief Minister’s Facebook page pledging to fund the project but unfortunately, all of it translated into nothing as the Waste Warriors are yet to receive any funds from the government.

Waste Warriors, which is engaged in several waste management programmes across Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand was established by Briton Jodie Underhill in 2012. Despite funding crunches, the clean-up drives at Dehradun, Dharamsala, Triund and Corbett were regular programmes arranged by the organisation. Crowdfunding for the Triund project helped raise Rs. 5 lakh, which the organisation thought would be sufficient till the government funds came in.

Trouble began, when the Waste Warriors were informed by the Deputy Commissioner of Kangra, after a month post their meeting with the Chief Minister that government funds could not be released for a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). Jodie was also asked to meet with the Municipal Commissioner of Dharamsala, only to be informed that no funds could be arranged on behalf of the municipality either.

Funding Crunches For NGOs

For years, various NGOs have contributed in the implementation of government schemes in India, with due financial assistance from state and Central governments. While there have been instances of delays in funds reaching NGOs, the Waste Warriors incident poses a bigger question of whether funds for Swachh Bharat should be released for NGOs or not?

The Waste Warriors have done considerable work in waste management

The Waste Warriors have done considerable work in waste management

There are crores of rupees in the Swachh Bharat kitty but it’s sad that NGO’s like ours, the ones that are working in the field, the ones getting their hands dirty are not able to access these funds, said Jodie Underhill, Founder, Waste Warriors.

Waste Warriors are not the only NGO who bore the brunt of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s funding mechanism which allows funds to be utilised by state governments, urban local bodies and civic bodies. Mitra Shringar Samiti, the Bhopal based NGO run by Sanjana Singh had to give up on her unique song and dance routine in villages, spreading the message about the necessities of toilets, because she did not get adequate funds from the state administration. The funding mechanism of Swachh Bharat doesn’t allow utilisation of funds for the building of public toilets, nor does it allow funds to be given to NGOs. The entire financial structure of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is modeled of the Centre and the state sharing funds, with the majority of the share coming from the Centre. State governments are also authorised to grant funds to urban local bodies (ULBs) under SBM.

Also Read: Himachal CM Meets Dharamsala’s ‘Garbage Girl’, Will Fund ‘Waste Warriors’

We cannot provide funds to NGOs which are released to us by the Union Government under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, as the guidelines clearly state that the state and its administration are to utilise the funds provided by SBM. The Waste Warriors have done some amazing work in various parts of the state, but since municipalities cannot release funds for NGOs, we haven’t been able to help them financially, said Lalit Jain, Commissioner, Dharamsala Municipal Corporation.

Can Exceptions Be Made?

For organisations like Waste Warriors, which have done some exemplary work in the field of waste management, funding remains a crucial issue. The passion and zeal with which Jodie began her work, often faces acute shortage of funds, resulting in relying on crowdfunding, and an everlasting fear of closure of projects. At the end of March 2017, the organisation received 75 per cent of their funding for the Dharamsala project from HT Parekh Foundation, the CSR arm of HDFC. Despite that, the Triund project remained unfunded and is in a danger of closure if adequate funding is not provided immediately.

Maybe there could be mechanism which could be worked out to handover some funds for SBM to NGOs which have been known to do good work in the fields of sanitation and waste management. It would be beneficial for the government in attaining its objectives of sanitation and waste management as many NGOs have better reach among people in rural or remote areas. Providing them funds could see better utilisation of the money, said Saurabh Gupta, President of the NGO Shuddhi.

In April 2017, the Centre submitted draft guidelines to the Supreme Court which required NGOs to register afresh online with Niti Aayog’s ‘NGO-Darpan’ portal, making it even more difficult for them to seek funds from the government.

Sanjana Singh from Bhopal did not receive much help from the state government

Sanjana Singh from Bhopal did not receive much help from the state government

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was modeled to be a collaborative framework working on sanitation between the Centre, states, administrative and civic bodies. The whole funding framework is such that there is no mechanism to release funds for NGOs or any third-party organisation as of yet. This model was chosen to ensure better cooperation and speedier execution of work by every level of administration. We cannot accommodate request for funds on behalf of NGOs as there is no norm to do so yet, said an official from the Ministry of Urban Development.

Also Read: Is The Transgender-Led Swachh India Fight In Madhya Pradesh Failing?


NGOs have traditionally been dependent on donations from individuals or private corporations for their functioning. Receiving funds from the government often puts them at risk of functioning as per the government’s diktats. But there have been instances of NGOs receiving grants from Central or state governments. The Akshaya Patra Foundation gets funds from both the central and state governments. An instance of Central funds allocated for NGOs can be found when the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) allocated over Rs. 1 crore to Karnataka based NGO Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project for organic farming, production of bio-fertilisers, setting up of rural godowns, in 2012-13. Since the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been operational for more than two years, NGOs operating in the areas of sanitation and waste management can bring their valuable experience to the field.

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan looks to end open defecation and improve waste management and these two are sectors many NGOs have worked for many years. If the funding mechanism of Swachh Bharat is altered a bit, NGOs can also help in achieving the objectives of the mission. NGOs are already collaborating with district administration in many places. Providing them with grants will allow them to work further in the sectors, said Avinash Kumar, Director, WaterAid India.

When the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2, 2014, he had asked for support from NGOs to ensure a cleaner India. Many NGOs have worked in the sectors of sanitation and waste management for years and their expertise will only benefit the programme. The granting of funds to NGOs, especially the ones who have done considerable work in the fields of sanitation and waste management may result in better implementation of the Abhiyan’s objectives. ULBs and district administration can also utilise NGOs’ expertise in understanding the cleanliness requirements of a particular area and work together towards it. Since the Abhiyan was launched, several districts have witnessed administrations taking help from NGOs in propagating the ideas of sanitation and waste management. A better funding mechanism will ensure that organisations like Waste Warriors can continue with their good work without worrying for funds at every step of their operation.

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