Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), one of the flagship programme’s of the government, has heralded a change in the sphere of sanitation programmes in the country. Though India has made strides in improving sanitations standards, the dismal sanitation statistics for both rural and urban areas still leave much to be desired.
Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals committed the countries of the world to achieve universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene to all in the next 15 years. With sanitation as a key priority, SBA was introduced by restructuring the erstwhile Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) for raising the standards in sanitation.
Since its launch on 2nd October 2014, the country has seen an unprecedented scaling up of sanitation related activities. States are competing with each other to fulfill goals and targets by 2019 which is the target date to achieve an open-defecation free country.
According to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), sanitation coverage has gone up from 42 percent in October 2014 to 60 percent in 2017. As per MWDS, three states – Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim – 85 districts across the country and 1,52,535 villages have already been declared open defecation free (ODF). These achievements have clearly contributed to making sanitation a political priority. The Ministry has also come up with ODF Sustainability Guidelines with a view to address sustainability.
Forget allocations, what about water?
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation which implements the SBA has been allocated Rs 20,011 crore in the Union Budget 2017 which is a marked jump from the previous year. There is clearly an upward trend in allocations from 2012 to 2017 in terms of budget allocation. The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has two sub-missions - SBM (Rural) and SBM (Urban) and budgetary provisions for both of them are provided separately through the MDWS and the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) respectively.
The SBM (Rural), and the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) are part of the SBA, within this, the SBM (R) has been allocated Rs 13,948.27 crore in 2017-18 BE which is significantly higher compared with the previous year (Rs 10,500 crore 2016-17 RE). The figures augur well for the status of rural sanitation. However, the allocations for rural wate – specifically the NRDWP – have remained almost stagnant (Rs 6,000 crore in 2016-17 RE to Rs 6,050 crore in 2017-18 BE). (Source: Compiled by CBGA from Union Budget documents, various years.)
This could have serious consequences, especially in view of the fact that the recent drought situation in the country, has exacerbated the drinking water crisis and has even led to slip-backs in toilet usage. Further, the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development in its 23rd Report on the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in May, 2016 had pointed out the fallout of the decrease in Union Budget allocation for the rural drinking water programme.
There are also concerns regarding the quality of water which the government is trying to address through a sub-mission of the NRDWP. The sub-mission proposes to provide safe drinking water to over 28,000 arsenic- and fluoride-affected habitations in the next four years. However, as of November 2016, at least 17 states had not submitted proposals under NRDWP for release of second installment of funds which would lead to further delay in project completion.
There was an expectation that the government would acknowledge the importance of drinking water and make higher allocations for NRDWP in the recent 2017 Budget. The finance minister in his Budget speech assured that ‘ODF villages are being prioritised for piped water supply under the SBA’. However, as mentioned earlier, there has been an increase of only Rs 50 crores in the allocation for rural water for 2017-18.
Hence, one can only speculate as to how much this meager amount will help in addressing such a substantive issue. Almost two-and-half years after the SBA’s launch, it is time to take stock of its progress and look beyond sanitation; not just in terms of toilet construction but also into issues of sustainability of toilets, equity in access to drinking water across social categories, gender and culture. Many more steps would be required for the country to become ‘swachh’ and fulfill the dream of a Clean India.