Corporate hand in sustainable WASH

While Swachh Bharat Mission is focused on improving sanitation in the country, an ODF India remains a distant dream. Can corporate contribution ease the sanitation challenges India faces?
Without behaviour change, toilet infrastructure created will remain only structures that will never be used. (Image: India Water Portal)
Without behaviour change, toilet infrastructure created will remain only structures that will never be used. (Image: India Water Portal)

Despite making sanitation a national priority with Swachh Bharat Mission, 50 percent of India defecated in the open till 2014. The goal to make India open defecation free by 2019 seemed ambitious. The government provided funding but it also sought active participation from the corporate sector. Companies were compelled to loosen their purse strings as Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 made corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandatory.

CSR platform for WASH in Maharashtra

Considering corporates face many barriers in implementing programmes and need help in making informed decisions in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, Samhita Ventures, India Sanitation Coalition and CEPT University with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Government of Maharashtra have now set up a corporate platform for WASH in Maharashtra

The platform was launched at the India Sanitation Conclave held at FICCI, New Delhi on April 26-27, 2018. The conclave was organised by the India Sanitation Coalition. “CSR in WASH is focused on the creation of toilets but discounts software aspects such as behaviour change. The platform brings together multiple stakeholders--government, companies, implementation agencies and sector experts--of the WASH ecosystem to pilot high impact and holistic CSR interventions in both urban and rural WASH worth several million dollars for the next four years,” says Madhu Krishna, India Country Lead, WASH, BMGF.

Maharashtra was chosen for launching the platform as the state is one of the largest corporate hubs in India and there is a strong political will and action from urban and rural departments within the government of Maharashtra.

“This is an end-to-end approach not limited to getting corporates to invest in sanitation. To deal with the sanitation challenge, a more informed and structured platform was required to make the right investment decisions and implement solutions in critical areas like behaviour change and faecal sludge management,” says Siddhartha Das of India Sanitation Coalition.

A study, CSR in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), by Samhita analyses the CSR efforts in WASH by 100 companies with the largest CSR budgets on the BSE 500. “The report indicated that though the sector has seen significant corporate investment since 2014, corporate funding is missing out on plugging key gaps in the WASH value chain. Corporate India has responded enthusiastically to the government’s call-to-action on WASH. Industries with a strategic interest in WASH lead the way. However, Northeast India and urban areas have been neglected,” says Priya Naik, founder and CEO of Samhita.

CSR driven work in WASH

Adopting a district for sanitation coverage: Bharti Foundation

The Bharti Foundation has attempted to provide a toilet in every household as well as separate toilets for girls in government schools in Ludhiana district, Punjab. In addition, they have also had a shot at bringing about behaviour changes to inculcate good sanitation practices and promote a regular use and proper operation and maintenance of toilets.

“The emphasis was on good quality construction and the Bharti Foundation did systematic sample checking of activities for quality assurance at three stages--one by the programme implementation team; another by the internal quality team and then, the Quality Council of India. The Foundation constructed and handed over 17,628 toilets across 1010 villages in rural Ludhiana district,” says Atul Bakshi, head, sanitation programme, Bharti Foundation.

Swachh Bharat Preraks: Tata Trust

To help strengthen capacities at the district level and to offer technical and management support for achieving the goals of SBM, Tata Trust partnered with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Government of India, to launch a unique pan-India initiative. They hired, trained and deployed motivated young professionals as zila swachh bharat preraks, one in each district, across the country.

These preraks help the district administration design, implement and monitor various interventions under the mission. “The initiative has over 400 young professionals working directly with district collectors to reconnect villagers with the government’s representatives and give the programme a renewed drive with impressive results,” says Charudutt Chaudhari, a zila swachh bharat prerak, Jalgaon, Maharashtra.

Supporting sanitation in ashramshalas: NSE  

National Stock Exchange of India Ltd. (NSE) partnered with the Government of Maharashtra to work for ‘Clean Maharashtra: Clean Ashramshala’. As a part of it, the WASH standards were ensured in ashramshalas (residential schools for tribal children).

“The project, with UNICEF, Mumbai as its advisor, augments WASH facility in ashramshalas including repair, provision of group hand washing units, group cloth washing platforms, menstrual hygiene and management, safe drinking water points, and solid and liquid waste management. The NSE has taken responsibility of operation and maintenance of the WASH infrastructure and will create a model institutional arrangement to promote safe sanitation and hygienic behaviour in ashramshalas,” says Rema Mohan, head, CSR, National Stock Exchange.  

School-based sanitation: DCM Shriram

DCM Shriram, a business conglomerate, with interest in agriculture, has been engaged in sanitation programmes through its CSR initiatives. Sanitation in schools is considered to be a vital area in the project not only because of its health implications on students but also because sanitation habits are easier to inculcate in children.

“We believe that along with infrastructure, the mindset of people towards unsanitary conditions, open defecation etc., need to change. This will come about through regular sensitisation and awareness. In the implementation of this initiative, DCM Shriram has worked in close coordination with government departments, NGO partners and the community. The strategy involves supporting schools to upgrade their sanitation infrastructure, provide sensitisation programmes on WASH, support repair and maintenance and then exit once the capacity building is done,” says Joy Mukherjee, Additional GM, CSR, DCM Shriram.

Developing school modules on sanitation: Reckitt Benckiser

Under Banega Swachh India, Reckitt Benckiser is developing school modules for very young children at the foundation stage which include early learning goals like personal, social and emotional development, knowledge and understanding and physical development.

“Reckitt Benckiser’s broader sustainability approach in addressing sanitation and hygiene crisis in India is of giving maximum weight to work around behaviour change communication. Without this, infrastructure created will remain only structures that will never be used. We are trying to understand through our work and processes why behaviours are such and what triggers non-behaviour into behaviour,” said Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs and Partnerships, Reckitt Benckiser.

State’s failure in treading the last mile

Sujoy Mojumdar, WASH specialist, UNICEF while moderating a panel discussion on WASH sustainability says that 70 percent of rural India has access to toilets now but the usage remains a problem. According to V.K. Madhavan, chief executive, WaterAid, the national annual rural sanitation survey for 2017-18, with its tall claims on open-defecation-free villages, does not create space for voluntary agencies. “The next round of census in 2021 will confirm the status of the towns and villages which were previously declared and verified as ODF by various districts and states,” he says.

India remains the nation with the most number people without toilets, reveals WaterAid’s 'State of the world’s toilets 2017’ report. Despite immense progress through SBM, more than 732 million people, mostly women and children, still fear to relieve themselves whether it is in the open or in unsafe or unhygienic toilets as per a WaterAid report. We need to work towards changing that.

Also read: Swachh Bharat Mission: Could the most ambitious cleanliness campaign in Indian history also be the most expensive failure?

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