Launching the second phase of Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban and AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation), Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call to make cities and towns “completely free of garbage”. Though the aim seems to be far remote from the present state of urban and rural areas, it does not look beyond our capacity considering the progress made in the first phase of the mission and the way the message is taken to common people. The two urban missions would converge with those for rural areas.
Modi gave full credit to sanitation workers and rag pickers for the success of the SBM first phase praising them as “Mahanayaks” (great actors). They deserve it for having given full cooperation despite the extraordinary and unforeseen burden imposed on them by Covid-19 pandemic. The bottommost layer of labour force has now become and is also recognized as indispensable aid in public healthcare management. Any government has to have a human face in handling human problems.
The first phase focused on “transformation” whereas the second phase will take to “saturation” to improve the facilities and expand the work of processing municipal waste.
Two specific goals are set for the second phase – 100% access to clean drinking water and improving sewage and septic management. The second phase will cost Rs. 4.3 lakh crore, which is nearly two and a half times more than the expenditure incurred in the first phase. “Water secure” and “garbage free” are related objectives. Outcome-based funding for cities, hinted as the pattern, is likely to encourage innovations.
Cleanliness drive is not a one-time job to be taken and completed. There is no end to sanitation work. It is a continuous activity inside and outside households. Stop it for a ay, next day work doubles. Cleanliness has to become part of our lifestyle and culture. Mechanisation and public cooperation are the lone saviors of sanitation workers. Fortunately, there is no open political party protests against these missions pushed by the NDA government. Response and achievements of individual States vary for local reasons.
Modi has also launched a dedicated fund – Rashtriya Jal Jeevan Kosh (RJJK) – to collect public donations for providing water connection to rural households, schools, anganwadi centres, and public and charitable institutions.
Centrally sponsored Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), a nationwide rural welfare scheme started in 2019, aims at providing safe and clean drinking water to all rural households by 2024 through tap water connection. According to reports, about 1.25 lakh houses in about 80 districts are covered till now and about 1.16 crore tap connections have been provided. AMRUT 1.0 covered about 500 cities; the present phase aims to cover 4,378 statutory towns.
JJM is a village-driven and mostly women headed movement thus making people’s participation at the grassroots in a development-cum-welfare scheme a reality. It is an essential companion to SBM.
Manual scavenging, legally banned in 1993, still persists in practice. In 2013, construction of insanitary latrines was prohibited by law. Employment of workers for manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks was declared cognisable and non-bailable offences. Maximum penalty of imprisonment up to 2 years or fine up to Rs. one lakh or both can be inflicted for construction of insanitary latrine. The penalty increases to jail term up to 5 years or fine up to Rs. 5 lakh or both for employing a person in manual scavenging or hazardous cleaning.
Rehabilitation of manual scavengers has been assured. Cash assistance, education for children, loan for alternative employment were also provided. Still, over 54,000 manual scavengers were found working in 2019 in a survey conducted in 170 districts in 18 states. In 2021, there are over 10 lakh manual scavengers in the country. Actual number may be much more since several States having a large number of service latrines have not shown the number of manual scavengers. Census of 2011 enumerated 26 lakh dry latrines in the country, nearly 80% of them in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
National data may not be accurate because of the very size of enumeration work. Village level data collected through panchayat institutions may be more reliable to plan action.
Eradication of manual scavenging involves two-pronged attack simultaneously. Insanitary dry latrines must be demolished and replaced with sanitary ones; and scavengers must be liberated from unclean occupations and settled in clean occupations. It is reported that under SBMU, 4,371 cities had been declared open defecation- free.
Manual scavenging is a hazardous work and death during work is a common accident. In response to a question in Rajya Sabha, the government stated that between 2016 and November 2019, 282 sanitation workers died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of 40 deaths and Haryana stood next with 31 deaths. Total death toll at work exceeded 400 by 2019 since the ban.
River Ganga is not the lone victim receiving human and industrial wastes of many sorts requiring enormous efforts and international financing for cleaning. All waterways within towns and cities are also subject to the same treatment. Flow of sewage into rivers and canals is common wherever there is no underground drainage system. Buckingham Canal running through the Chennai city, for example, has become a “long sewer”. Mountains of waste materials waiting to be segregated are an eyesore in suburbs of all metropolitan cities literally dotted with dump-yards.
It is only now the nation has woken up to this stupendous problem and some states are taking the task seriously by issuing strict instructions on waste disposal. Election time, particularly local body elections is the season to speak on, promise, and demonstrate ‘garbage-free” cities by state governments. As part of civic poll preparations, officials are reported to be too worried about highly polluted water bodies surrounding cities.
Second phase of the Missions provides flexibility to state governments on implementation of the policy and use of funds since sanitation is a state responsibility. The strategies will include augmenting institutional capacity of districts for undertaking intensive behaviour change activities at grassroots; strengthening capacities of implementing to roll out the programme in a time-bound manner and ensuring collective outcomes; incentivising performance of state level institutions to promote behavioural change in communities.
The Prime Minister has been stressing the importance of behavioural change on the part of everyone as vital to the entire sanitary work. He stated that “Cleanliness cannot be achieved through budget allocation. Behavioral change is the solution. It should become a mass movement.” It is made an intrinsic part of SBM. Source segregation of garbage for instance, which needs total public cooperation, must be enforced strictly till it becomes a habit. China achieved success in putting stress on changing people’s minds.
Behavioral change heavily depends on communication. Undoubtedly, India excels in communication. However, Hygiene Index Survey indicates that lot more needs to done. Once children grasp right sanitary practices, coming generations would follow. Garbage issue or toilet habit – they both depend on construction of facilities and changing mindset. In the latter, people’s active participation is required.
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