Millions wait for toilets and water

While millions of people in India still wait for their share of water and toilets, this year's budget fails to give them any hope.
The state of water supply and sanitation continues to be poor in India.
The state of water supply and sanitation continues to be poor in India.

GoI allocations for the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is Rs. 22,357 crores

For the first time in the last four years, the allocation for the sanitation programme Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has gone down from Rs 19,248 (RE 2017-18) to Rs 17, 843 crore (2018-2019).

Out of this, Rs 15,343 crore has been allocated to rural areas (SBM-Gramin) while Rs 2,500 crore has been given to SBM-Urban.

For the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), the allocation dropped marginally from Rs 7,050 crore in 2017-18 (RE) to Rs 7,000 crore in 2018-19 (BE).

As per the budget documents, the government claims to have built six crore toilets and aims at building 188 lakh individual household latrines in the financial year 2018-19. With just a year left to meet the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) target of an open defecation free (ODF) India, the decrease in funding for sanitation in this year’s budget comes as a surprise. While the Government of India’s data suggests a steady progress towards the target, even today, in India, 28 percent people lack access to safe sanitation.

Implementation varies widely across the states and the fund-sharing mechanism currently between the Centre and states is in the ratio of 60:40; for eight Northeastern and three Himalayan states, the ratio is 90:10. Bihar and Odisha continue to have very low coverage of 41.16 percent and 48.34 percent respectively. As per a survey by the Quality Council of India in 2017, the access to toilets is 62.45 percent and only 91 percent of those who own a toilet use it.

As on June 2017, the total number of people defecating in the open in India was 350 million, the figures by United Nations suggest that 524 million Indians (till June 2017) defecate in the open every day. Coercive approaches by way of vigilance committees who exhort people to not defecate in the open, or penalisation are being used to meet the targets, instead of awareness raising and demand creation, suggest media reports. At certain places, people are being coerced to take loans to build toilets.

The number of toilets constructed under the Swachh Bharat mission shows a steady increase, yet this does not guarantee sustained use. Even the latest statistics on the number of villages that have become open defecation free is not a correct indicator considering that it involves changing centuries-old-practices which cannot be done in a short period. Achieving the status of open defecation free is not an easy task when Bangladesh took 15 years and Thailand 40 years to become ODF.

Implementation of SBM varies across states

As regards the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban, the aim was to eliminate open defecation, manual scavenging and scientific management of municipal waste by October 2, 2019. Till November 2017, 42.72 lakh household toilets had been constructed against the target of 66.42 lakh, recording an achievement of nearly 64 percent. According to the Centre’s reply to a question in the Lok Sabha in December 2017, 260 districts and three lakh villages have been declared open defecation free. The expectation of a budgetary increase--from the paltry figure of Rs 4000--in the subsidy component of the cost of the individual household toilet has not been met. 

study (October 2017) by the Institute of Development Studies, Water Aid and Praxis suggests that several ODF villages which have been verified as ODF by a third-party evaluation are not free from open defecation. In one of the study villages in Pali, Rajasthan, the total current usage of toilets was only one percent. The study also pointed to coercion by way of imposition of sanctions like stopping of rations, seizure of ration cards, disallowance of benefits from any panchayat-related scheme and disconnection of electricity in the study village in Sehore, Madhya Pradesh.

A report in 2015 by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, too had found similar discrepancies in the form of incomplete toilets of poor quality resulting in instances where these toilets are not being used by people. The CAG’s recommendation of converging SBM with other programmes like National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) did not find a place in this year’s budget. 

Arghyam, an organisation in Bengaluru that supports sustainable water management expresses concern that the government is spending too much money on toilets and very less money on activities to induce behavioural changes. Eight percent of the SBM allocation is meant for Information, Education and Communication (IEC) and behaviour change. Since, the overall budget has gone down, the budget for IEC too has got affected. The budget may be able to support the glib advertising using celebrities but the need is to move away from a technocratic top-down approach by improving the administrative capacities of the department and the institutional ability of local governments to deliver sanitation services at the grassroots. Further, it is important to communicate about and bring about behavioural change in sanitation practices.

“The actual delivery in the social sector is poor in this year’s budget. Even while the government made all the right noises as regards the rural sector, key infrastructure programmes like rural roads and housing showed no shift in allocation. Swachh Bharat, which was the 'showstopper' in the last three budgets, saw a decline in allocation,” says Yamini Aiyar, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and director of the Accountability Initiative, speaking at a panel discussion held by the Centre for Budget and Governance Analysis (CBGA).

Toilets have been constructed but proper waste management facilities are lacking given that the budget allocation for solid and liquid waste management is dismal. “The Centre has also failed to take on board corporate houses for the implementation of the SBM as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility for which they had designed Rashtriya Swachhata Kosh,” as per an article published in Down To Earth. Poor quality toilets are constructed that are neither safe nor hygienic. Accountability Initiative studied the government data in 2015 on toilet construction to find several inconsistencies including duplication of names and misreporting. The field survey revealed that as many as one-third households reported to have a toilet in the government database didn’t actually have them.

Drinking water loses out

The budget for the rural drinking water under the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) is marginally lesser at Rs 7000 crore which, as per a report titled Water: At what cost? The state of the world’s water 2016 by WaterAid, a water and sanitation nonprofit, is highly inadequate for a country which has the highest number (75.8 million) of people in the world without access to safe drinking water. While the WatSan sector has been prioritised in the country’s policy agenda, a lion’s share of the allocation has gone to sanitation at the cost of lesser allocation to drinking water. In the budget speech, the government remained silent on the implementation status of the national sub-mission announced last year to address fluoride and arsenic-affected habitations with a budget of Rs 25,000 crore.

AMRUT loses to other projects

AMRUT got sidelined by the government which has given much focus to its big-ticket--the smart cities project--in this year’s budget. AMRUT was launched in 2015 mainly to provide universal coverage of basic services and civic amenities as well as to reduce pollution in cities. It is divided into eight components: water supply, sewerage, septage, storm-water drainage, urban transport, green spaces and parks, administrative reforms and capacity building. The budget speech mentioned that under the AMRUT, state-level plans of Rs 77,640 crore for 500 cities have been approved. Further, the government has committed to improving infrastructure in cities, and construct 494 water supply projects at a cost of Rs 19,428 crore. It also plans to launch 272 projects for improved sewerage infrastructure at a cost of Rs 12,429 crore. A heightened allocation in the revised estimates should address the drawbacks of the project. 


115 districts have been identified as ‘aspirational districts’ by the government for focused attention, to develop these as model districts. Access to clean drinking water and toilets are two indices that will be taken into consideration during the development of these districts.

Government promised to provide financial aid to the development of bio-gas from solid waste. A new scheme,  Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan (Gobardhan), for management and conversion of cattle dung and solid waste in farms to compost, fertiliser, bio-gas and bio-CNG has been announced.

There was a hike of Rs 2,000 cr in the allocation to the Ministry of Water Resources--up from Rs 6,887 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 8,860 crore in 2018-19--for expanding irrigation infrastructure (Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayi Yojana and river inter-linking) and cleaning up the Ganga (Namami Gange). As a part of the Namami Gange, the focus is on infrastructure development, river surface cleaning, rural sanitation and other interventions; 187 projects to clean the river have been launched out of which 47 projects have been completed.

This year, the groundwater irrigation scheme under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana - Har Khet Ko Pani received an allocation of Rs 2,660 crore, up from Rs 1,450 core in 2017-18. As a part of this, groundwater irrigation will be developed in 96 districts where less than 30 percent of the land has assured irrigation.

The project has a high focus on technology and management-reform-based interventions without addressing basic infrastructure and governance issues. A High Powered Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had observed that urban local bodies (ULBs) in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy. Even though ULBs have been getting higher allocations from the Centre and the states, and tax devolution to them has increased, their own tax bases are narrow. Further, owing to their poor governance and financial situation, the ULBs find it difficult to access external financing.

“Unfortunately, the policy makers and planners for Indian cities are yet to integrate the potential of nature-based solutions for building resilience and achieving sustainability goals. Concrete examples of such solutions, especially relevant to rapidly growing cities, include conservation of urban wetlands for flood control; promotion of urban agriculture towards food security, which also generates livelihood options for migrants coming to the city; and regenerating urban forestry to combat air pollution,” says Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar, lead, Practice, at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore in an article in The Wire. Pahwa makes a case for low-cost solutions that preserve and build upon existing natural assets in small and medium-sized urban settlements of India, as well as in rapidly urbanising peripheries of big cities. These concerns have not been reflected in the government’s policy or implementation so far. 

Namami Gange, completion not in sight

Another flagship programme of the government--the cleaning of the river Ganga (Namami Gange)--is likely to benefit from the increased budget to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Redevelopment and Ganga Rejuvenation. The budget has been upped by Rs 2000 crore. The budget speech mentioned that 187 projects have been sanctioned under the Namami Gange programme for infrastructure development, river surface cleaning, rural sanitation and other interventions at a cost of Rs 16713 crore. While 47 projects have been completed, the remaining are at various stages of execution. All 4,465 Namami Gange gram villages have been declared ODF.

The CAG, in its performance audit report just two months ago in December 2017, had chided the ministry for its poor performance as regards the utilisation of funds, planning and implementation of various schemes and projects on pollution abatement and rural sanitation, adequacy of human resources, and effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. As per the CAG, it is a matter of concern that the National Mission on Clean Ganga does not have a river basin management plan even after more than eight years of the National Ganga River Basin Authority notification. The CAG recommended that efforts should be made to expedite the work assigned to the Central Pollution Control Board on compliance verification and monitoring of pollution.




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