Tuesday, December 22, 2015

[Editorial # 21] The elusive toilets goal: The Business Standard

The attempt to make India free of open defecation appears to be a classic example of how goals can remain elusive despite the best of intentions of the government and the availability of money. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, launched by the prime minister over a year ago, is really the fourth avatar of a three-decade long effort. Yet the fate of the latest repackaging, which has reset the target date at 2019, may not be very different from that of the earlier efforts. An indication of the mindset at work is available from the fate of a well-meaning effort by the central ministries responsible for various parts of the programme to find out how things are going and learn quick lessons. But when the quick survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation earlier this year found that less than half the toilets built since the Abhiyan was launched were being used, the government decided to keep the results under wraps lest the Opposition made an issue of it.

Fortunately, a detailed report by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General into the earlier avatar, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, has unearthed highly useful findings which can in fact make it a classic case study. With rare pungency, the CAG report, covering the period of 2009 to 2014, declares: "The (sanitation) programme which is running in mission mode for three decades has not succeeded in evoking the missionary zeal in various government agencies, participating NGOs and corporates." The audit found no proper bottom-up planning like gram panchayat plans being linked to district plans. Less than half the number of toilets targeted were constructed, and a third of those which saw the light of day were defunct. They were either incomplete, or poorly constructed, or badly maintained. In the years studied, not only did the Centre release less than half the funds it was to, as many as 16 states either did not release or did less than what was their share of funding. As the government runs innumerable programmes whose tasks overlap, there was a plan for convergence. For example, the material cost for toilets in homes built under Indira Awas Yojana could come from the sanitation programme and the labour costs from the rural employment programme - but this did not happen. Finally, the programme was to be monitored through an online management information system, but not only was the data uploaded not verified, it was not cross-checked with the departments' annual performance reports.

A course correction is due. There may be some change form the past in a critical area - persuading people to actually use toilets. Brand ambassadors have been appointed to spread the message. The NSSO survey has revealed that some are using the new toilets as store rooms. There is every reason for the government to institute a more detailed study, which discovers the reasons behind the reality, and to shares those results with the public. Again, money will not be a problem. The World Bank has approved a $1.5 billion loan to focus on behavioural change to further the project.


1. What is Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? Why is it being called "the fourth avatar of a three-decade long effort" by the editor? 

2. What is National Sample Survey Organisation? What is its role?

3. What is Comptroller and Auditor General of India? Who holds this office currently? What is CAG's role?

4. What is Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan?

5. What are the highlights of the audit report on Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan?

6. What is understood by convergence of Government schemes? What are its merits and demerits?

7. What is World Bank? Where is it located? What are its functions? Who heads the WB currently?

8. What is understood by behavioural change? Explain with examples.


  1. 1) Swachh bharat abhiyan also know as the clean India mission was one of the first elusive missions that was launched by the govt. as soon as it came to power, though such missions where launched earlier also by the respective governments but they failed in the launching the mission in the correct time and did not use the right techniques to promote and make people aware of the missions launched like the Nirmal Bharat abiyan or the Indira Awas Yojana unlike these missions swachh bharat abiyan was more organised and there were even ambassadors chosen and people were officially nominated by the prime minister to take the initiative to clean and they inturn had to nominate 9 other people and the chain would follow.But not even a year after its launch the momentum of the mission has seen some slow down !!!

  2. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan also referred to as the Clean India Mission is an iniative launched by the Government of India in 4041 statutory cities and towns to clean up the country's roads, streets and other infrastructure. It was launched in October 2014 and is one of the biggest cleanliness drives in India. The campaign aims to achieve the vision of a Çlean India", by 2019, which is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and hence represents a tribute to the Father of our Nation. There are specific objectives that the campaign wishes to achieve, of which top priority is accorded to the goal of elimination of open defecation in the country by constructing toilets for households and communities which do not have operable toilet facilities. Other objectives of the campaign include : a) eradication of manual scavenging b) introduction of modern and scientific municipal solid waste management practices c) enabling private sector participation in the sanitation sector and finally d) to create awareness among people regarding the pertinence of sanitation and to alter their attitudes towards the entire issue of sanitation and its importance.

  3. The phrase "forth avatar of a three decade long effort", is perhaps a satiric critique of the half-hearted efforst put forward by each successive government towards the complete and satisfactory accomplishment of an extremely important social objective. Programs and campaigns to achieve the previously mentioned goals have been a common feature of successive government, but none have shown the will to effectively implement it. It has rather remained a mere platitude to the masses. Efforts to eliminate open defecation and to promote better sanitation have been recurrent phenomena for the past thirty years. The previosu NDA government had restructured the Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme in April 1999 and renamed it the Total Sanitation Campaign, later renamed as the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. The article itself mentions the loopholes inherent in the campaign that prevent its successful execution. For one there has been no bottoms up approach that mobilizes grassroots support. Rural households and communities at large are the core recipients of the benefits of the mission and therefore should be inclusive of them. However there has been no form of consultation with gram panchayats or other rural local bodies to create a structured framework to implement sanitation improvements in the areas which most require it. Whatever work has been done, is in a shoddy manner as explained in the adjoining article. The toilets constructed are either not viable for usage or are incomplete or cannot be operated. Such half-hearted attempts are only inviting trouble for the government with lakhs going down the drain to no effect. For any programme to be successful periodic feedback and improvements are essential so as to meet the requirements of the population in an efficient and time-bound manner. However monitoring of the program remains minimal to say the least and efficient implementation with regard to the finances involved also remains a distant dream. Most importantly, the crux of the issue remains unaddressed. The basic mindset of the recipients themselves need to be transformed, before the program is to gain success. Until and unless households and communities are made aware of the health benefits of requisite sanitation , and the initiative comes form within them, toilets will continue to be used as store-rooms with scant regard for their ultimate purpose of achieving a healthy and clean lifestyle. You can after all take the horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink. While the face of the government supporting the initiative continue to alter time and again along with the nomenclature assigned to the program , the flaws of the program remain unaddressed and substantive changes to address these flaws remain elusive.