By Arun Srivastava
Going by the government standard, the success of the prime minister’s exalted agenda Swachh Bharat Mission has been quite commendable. The Establishment has been putting out its best to make the programme a landmark. Since the mission involves a huge investment, the officials have been ebullient and not tired of claiming success.
While launching his lofty programme on October 2, 2014 Narendra Modi appeared before a battery of cameras to sweep the courtyard of a police station in a Dalit residential colony in Delhi. “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary in 2019,” he said, promising to transform sanitation and waste-management. He reiterated this promise in his annual Independence Day speeches from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort.
For the programme not to face any fund crunch, he also imposed a cess of 0.5 percent on all taxable services to help raise money for the campaign. For 2017-18, the government has allocated Rs 13,948 crore for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G) project; for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) project, the allocation was merely Rs 2,300 crore. But this has to be seen in the light of the 2011 Census, according to which 31.16 percent of the total population lives in urban areas. Also, the growth of population in urban areas is 32 percent over a decade and in rural areas 12 percent. The fact that the urban population is growing at a much more rapid rate has been ignored by the government.
Besides the bureaucrats and subordinate officials, social elites and celebrities have been lining up to declare support for the project. These are the people who like to be seen on the right side of the powers that be. Astonishingly, the common man for whom the mission is designed, as Modi claims, is often left out of the swachhta campaign.
Now in the third year of its implementation, questions are being asked: would Swachh Bharat Abhiyan be a success? Whether the allocated funds are being invested in the right manner, at right places and in a transparent manner? Whether the rural poor has really benefited from the SBM? There are allegataions that the babus take away a cut back of 40 to 50 per cent from the subsidy. Often the poor beneficiary has to arrange the rest of the amount from own sources. The skewed importance given to rural areas ignores the population explosion in the urban areas. The key problem with the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is that the government is primarily focussed on promotions than its implementation.
Duplicate entries, ghost beneficiaries and missing households have been a major bane of SBM. Shortage of funds has led to construction getting stalled half way. The bureaucrats allege that the poor people often use the funds on their daily needs, which is not always the case although this is true in some stray cases. Once the mission was announced, a mad rush followed for constructing toilets in government schools. A case study (Annual Status of Education Report) revealed that as many as 96.5 percent of rural elementary government schools had toilets, but more than one in four toilets (27.79%) were dysfunctional or locked. Under the SBM, no importance is being given to the upkeep, maintenance and sustainability of these community facilities. While the responsibility of who will manage the show is yet to be fixed, no honorarium has been announced to people involved in maintenance of the toilets.
It is believed that the focus of the SBM-G should rather be on the behavioural change; the guidelines also require that 8 percent of the funds be allocated for information, education and communication activities. But during 2016-17, up to January 2017 only 1 percent of the total expenditure had been spent on such activity.
It is most unfortunate that even during its third year of existence the purpose of Swachh Bharat is not clear to the beneficiaries. The campaign has been built around the theme of rebellion by the daughter in laws. This is considered as a political gimmick aimed at boosting the image of Modi and the sponsors. It is an irony that the people who actually make the country swachh (clean), and keep it so have been left behind.
SBM is a “lost opportunity” which has been reduced to “a toilet counting programme” and has failed to become a people’s movement. The thrust is not on its use and how to overcome the constraints SBM is facing. Actually, the scheme was originally conceived in 1986 by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi; Modi simply borrowed it.
People are not using toilets as they do not have access to adequate water. And for want of sufficient water they are reluctant to construct the toilet inside the home. It is a matter of shame that the political bosses are ignoring the basic issue of water. At a time when the villagers are not getting a regular supply of drinking water, how can they be expected to keep the toilets clean?
A UN report on access to water and sanitation in India released in 2015 said that 564 million of the country’s population still defecated in the open. In April, official numbers from the SBM-Gramin and the SBM-Urban claimed that over 42.6 million latrines have been built. But there are indications that even those with access to new latrines do not use them; that latrines are being denied to marginalised groups, and finally not enough is being done to end manual scavenging.
According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), despite huge investments, SBM is failing to achieve the desired results due to lack of credible on-ground data. Unfortunately, the mission to make the country free of open defecation by 2019 is already lagging behind. (IPA Service)