Citizens charter on drinking water and sanitation before Union Budget

Ahead of the Union Budget, Civil Society Organizations ask for policy strategies to support drinking water and sanitation for vulnerable sections.
Water facility by WASMO in Gujarat
Water facility by WASMO in Gujarat

A National Convention on Union Budget 2015-16 by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, New Delhi held on 8th and 9th January 2015 brought together around 200 Civil Society Organisations from more than 20 States to discuss the policy asks for water and sanitation sector. Civil society budget groups, collectively as a network called People’s Budget Initiative (PBI) discussed issues pertaining to the union budget and the government’s commitment to the social sector - drinking water and sanitation – was sought.

The Government aims to achieve provision of safe drinking water and open defecation free status for both urban and rural India by 2019 through its flagship programme - Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). The Union Budget 2015-16 is expected to accord high priority to the sector in terms of budgetary allocation while looking to improve the implementation mechanism. Towards this end, the government is mobilizing funds from various sources.

Immediate policy asks

  • Increase unit cost of individual household latrines proposed under Swachh Bharat Mission: 

In India, around 650 million people lack toilet facilities. The Government has allocated Rs. 1,96,000 crore under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The Ministry of Rural Development would spend Rs. 1,34,000 crore to construct 11.11 crore toilets in rural India.

An incentive of Rs. 10,000 provided under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan for construction of household toilets was found to be insufficient. Since the present increase in unit cost (i.e., Rs. 2,000 per individual household latrines) has been earmarked for providing water facility, the proposed unit cost of Rs. 12,000 under Swachh Bharat Mission is not a significant increase from the incentive provided earlier.

Various field studies and cost estimates made by Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability show that a higher amount is required (Rs. 17,000-18,000) to construct a long-lasting, functional toilet. The recent SQUAT survey conducted in northern and central rural India finds that the minimum amount suggested by people for toilet construction is Rs. 21,000. Estimations suggest that the proposed unit cost will fall short of the mark required to construct sustainable toilets for rural India. Therefore, the cost per toilet should be further raised.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission the government has also proposed to construct 1.04 crore household toilets in urban areas. The proposed incentive of Rs. 5,333 for individual household latrines in urban areas is unrealistic. The objective of achieving open defecation status by constructing new toilets and converting insanitary toilets into pour flush ones seems difficult to achieve with this token amount.

  • Higher allocations for the provision of safe drinking water

The budgetary allocation in water and sanitation sector over the years has not been sufficient as per the increasing problem. The Union Government expenditure for rural drinking water and sanitation for the year 2014-15 is Rs. 15,265 crore which is the same as it was in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 interim budget. With changing climatic conditions, decrease in ground levels and increasing water contamination, higher budget allocation to the drinking water sector is essential. Strengthening access to water is also important to ensure usage and sustainability of toilets and therefore the government should increase its investment in the water and sanitation sector.

  • Increase allocation for Information, Education and Communication (IEC) component under Swachh Bharat Misison

Studies around the country suggest that beside other reasons like non-functional toilets and lack of infrastructure, habits invoke people to defecate in the open. While primary need is to provide infrastructure, the government should also invest on IEC activities to bring crucial behavioural change in people.

In the present Swachh Bharat Mission guidelines, Government had reduced the IEC component from 15% to 8%. The SQUAT survey also highlights the Indian mindset about toilets and human waste. Culturally, dealing with faeces is considered bad in India and therefore people need to be made aware about various forms of toilets and their maintenance. However, it would take a lot of time and resources to convince people to start using a basic toilet and gradually shift to a pour flush one. The government should therefore increase allocations for the IEC component as it is crucial for making people internalize the idea of using toilets.

  • Water for toilets and allocation for operation and maintenance 

Safe sanitation is not just restricted to using toilets. It is also intrinsically linked with operation and maintenance and safe disposal of faecal sludge. In absence of workable options, either the toilets become defunct or often, the wastewater spills over. The planning for toilet construction should provide end-to-end solutions.

In the proposed programme, no funds are being allocated for operation and maintenance of anganwadi toilets, community sanitary complexes and public toilets. The government should allocate sufficient budget for the O&M as it is vital for the sustainability of the toilets and thus the programme.

  • Abolition of manual scavenging

SBM would be incomplete if the plight of manual scavengers mostly dalits, who are sanitizing India for years, would not be addressed. Abolition of manual scavenging should be one of the clearly stated objectives of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Guidelines should lay down clear monitoring mechanisms to ensure that all dry latrines are converted into sanitary latrines and that the practice of manual scavenging is abolished.

Long-term policy asks

  • Recruit human resources with different expertise and increase the skills and capacities of existing staff.

Water and sanitation is a state subject and therefore the major responsibility lies with it. In most of the states, Public Health Engineering Department and state department for Rural Development lacks sufficient staff. Apart from this handicap, these departments lack people with varied expertise and educational background. The staff shortage is stark at the gram panchayat level. The existing staffs are poorly trained in terms of implementation – operation, maintenance and sustainability and their skills are not upgraded. Swachhta Doots responsible for the administrative work at the panchayat level should be full time workers and rightly remunerated. ASHAs, anganwadi workers and ANM workers should not be further burdened.

  • Strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions

Swachh Bharat Mission could play an important role in strengthening the decentralization process. User Groups like Village Water Supply and Sanitation Committee, that are responsible for operation and maintenance, should be given appropriate orientation and technical training besides adequate financial and management support from the district/state. There is a need to strengthen the capacities of the Panchayats by infusing more funds, autonomy and trained staff at the Panchayat level.

  • Need to regulate Public Private Partnerships envisaged under Swachh Bharat Mission

The government has planned to construct 2.5 lakh community toilets, 2.6 lakh public toilets, and solid waste management facilities in 4041 towns of the country. The government, through the Ministry of Urban Development has estimated a cost of Rs. 62,009 crore of which the proposed central assistance will be Rs. 14,623 crore.

In view of the fact that construction of public toilets and community sanitary complexes are proposed to be built under Public Private Partnerships, it is important to ensure that there is a strong regulatory framework for transparency and accountability in the implementation of the programme. The experience of PPP in sectors such a drinking water and sanitation has often raised concerns related to tariffs and non-participatory approach of planning and implementation largely affecting the vulnerable sections of the population. The final guidelines of the programme should address these concerns.

  • Water and sanitation as fundamental right

The government should move towards recognizing water and sanitation as a legally enforceable right. This is in line with the fact that India has been a signatory to the commitments made in the UN general assembly, 2010 resolution and SACOSAN declaration to recognize water and sanitation as human right. The draft water policy 2012 pending in the ministry of Water Resources must be completely revised and a new policy must be placed immediately with due public discourse.

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