By Nitin Garg

Edited by Michelle Cherian, The Indian Economist

Sanitation is the safe and hygienic disposal of waste, which means there should be no contact between the body of waste and the human being. After thousands of years of evolution of human civilisation one could at least expect this much in the 21st century that there should be no contact between a human being and his own waste product. But sadly this bare minimum aspect of dignity is not a reality for the majority of our population.

Sanitation facility in India stands at a preposterous 54% for urban areas, 21% for rural areas coming upto 31% for the whole nation. One major aspect of inadequate sanitation is the practice of open defecation. By statistics, 597 million people in India practice open defecation which comes down to 49% of our population. We constitute 60% of total open defecators in the world.

In India 1000 children die daily due to diarrhoea, a disease closely linked with poor hygiene. Child under-nutrition is aggravated by the prevalence of diarrheal disease and is responsible for 22% of our disease burden. An emerging body of scientific studies suggest that many of the 162 millionchildren under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less from lack of food and more from poor sanitation. That helps to explain why, in spite of rising incomes and better diets, rates of child malnourishment in India are not improving faster. This also explains the perplexing dilemma of why our poor African counterparts are taller than richer Asian people, a finding often said as the “Asian enigma”. It is estimated that inadequate sanitation costs us 54 billion $ of economic loss every year which accounted to 6.4% of our GDP in 2006. Moreover it is calculated that investing 1$ in sanitation contributes 5$ to the nation.

Since 1951, the Government of India has spent close to Rs.1,57,000 crore on Water and Sanitation in rural India, through various programmes but still the coverage has been painfully slow. We started with Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) in 1987 which was a supply driven process which aimed at just construction of toilets. Because it naively believed that the practice of open defecation persists because people lack toilets. But soon the evaluation studies came in and the scheme was proven a failure because it was found that people practice open defecation not because they lack toilets but because of an attitude to not use one.

Rightly the approach was shifted from a supply driven process to a demand based approach under Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) of 1999. It aimed at educating people of benefits of safe sanitation and relied on people themselves building toilets and hence becoming eligible for subsidy. It aimed at hiring motivators who would mobilise people and sensitize them towards hygienic practices. To add vigour to the scheme, “Nirmal Gram Puraskar”was launched in 2003. It was awarded to gram panchayats which obtained open defecation free (ODF) status. Its major motive was to glorify their achievements and make them feel proud of their effort. And also to use them as examples to mobilise other villages.

The TSC had some ambitious goals like having toilets for all rural communities by 2012 but which it missed by huge margins or I would not be writing this piece.

Third revamp of the scheme was undertaken and this time it was declared as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) in 2012. As the name suggests the focus was shifted from just building toilets towards envisaging a cleaner India. Thus special focus was to be given to solid and liquid waste management. Rightly the approach was still kept as demand driven but minor changes like increasing the subsidy amount from Rs.3500 to Rs.10000 was done and APL/BPL distinction in selecting the eligible families was done away with.

The weapon of choice with government in achieving this noble task is IEC which stands for information, education and communication. Thus government aims at creating a sense of belonging for safe hygienethrough educating the community via person to person communication, posters, pamphlets and organising street plays. This demand creating procedure is fine to begin with but there are huge lapses. Like the skills of the motivators is constantly a question. The training is provided to them in communication and capacity development units (CCDU) which are statespecific but still somewhere the effort is lacking a vigour. A major assessment report by planning commission found out only 48% of the villages hired any kind of motivators and those who were hired did not carried the work in the prescribed way. They were just persuading them to build a toilet and not creating a sense of belonging.

One major reason for this shoddy approach is funding. Of the total project cost only 15% of the funds are earmarked for IEC activities. From these salary of the motivators, their transportation cost and every other awareness related expenditure has to be paid.Thus very little is left to do actual motivation.

Somewhere government is creating a class of dependent people who are not free to decide for themselves. They are dependent on government doles for food, housing and even toilets. Only 15% project cost is invested in awareness creation and rest is used as subsidy. Thus what we have in end is a population who cannot distinguish between good and bad and building a toilet to avail the subsidy.

The biggest proof of the power of awareness is Community led total sanitation (CLTS). It is a no subsidy approach which only relies on the tools of shame and disgust to motivate communities to build their own toilets. It has been a major success from Sub Saharan Africa to rural Bangladesh and is being practiced in India mainly through NGO’s.

We need to allocate more funds towards awareness creation from present mere 15%. Education should at least be given equal weightage as subsidies. We need to train motivators in line of CLTS which is a highly specialised way. The TSC campaign had reserved subsidies for only BPL families and it was believed that APL families will build their own toilets once sensitised. But due to inferior motivating skills in 13 years of its existence which saw toilet coverage growing very slowly and missing every deadline, the government under NBA instead of enhancing the motivators’ skills included even APL families in the subsidy, thus further constraining the limited funds which could be used in training.

The need of the hour is to create a self-aware class who is fit to make right decisions for itself and not creating an ever growing dependent class of people.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind