How India can ensure the outcomes of Swacch Bharat Mission remain sustainable?

Published: October 9, 2019

Cleanliness and sanitation were central to Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of free India. The vision has been pursued by the governments in free India have pursued zealously along with good housing and access to clean water.

The sanitation efforts received much needed fillip in 2014 when government made total sanitation a high priority, with the avowed goal of bridge the gaps through a policy focused on toilet construction.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi declared India’s rural areas free from open defecation.

Constructing Toilets and Open Defecation Free Status

Under the Swacch Bharat Mission, the government had constructed 110 million toilets. An independent survey has shown that toilets are not used by up to half the population in some places. This underlines the challenges ahead to ensure that the toilets don’t turn redundant and are put into use.

An ODF-Plus programme adopted by the Ministry of Jal Shakti is a good step.  The programme aims to encourage toilet use and create the infrastructure to manage solid and liquid waste in every village.

People Participation

The sustainable outcomes could be achieved only if it prioritises citizen rights and community participation.  The Swacch Bharat Mission has erred in its approach in many instances like opting for coercive methods that produce dreadful consequences. Often the campaigners have resorted to violence, public shaming and the threat of deprivation of welfare benefits to bring about compliance.

The policymakers must take a cue from developmental literatures which make it clear that bringing one set of freedoms to people, including material benefits, cannot compensate for the loss of others, notably freedom from oppression.

Threats of Manual Scavenging

Many toilets built under the Swacch Bharat Mission are not of the prescribed twin-pit design, and will require periodic evacuation. This puts the efforts to eliminate manual scavenging under risk.

The Centre must induce efforts to eliminate manual waste removal through a war-like effort, under which all States will install sewage and sludge treatment plants to ensure the efforts to tackle the menace of open defecation doesn’t lead to another menace of manual scavenging.

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