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Construction : View Point | October 2015 | Source : Infrastructure Today

The ´dirty´ task

Though the ´Swacch Bharat Abhiyan´ has been gathering steam, the litmus test is the on-ground execution of the elaborate plans and proposals. Collective responsibility is the key to success.

It is commendable that our national leaders have finally realised that without freedom from filth, we cannot become a great nation. Civilisation begins from sanitation as it provides the basic condition for human well-being. Mahatma Gandhi vividly made this point when he said during the freedom struggle that cleanliness was more important than independence. The proclamation of Hon´ble PM Narendra Modi after assuming office that building toilets was a priority over temples was in sync with Gandhi´s dream of making India clean. Following this, he kicked off Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which is a national mission to make India´s streets, roads, and infrastructure clean by 2019.

Apart from ensuring general cleanliness and scientific disposal or recycling of solid waste alongside bringing a behavioural change in people regarding healthy sanitary practices and generation of public consciousness about the linkages of health and hygiene, the crucial- almost central- component of the mission is construction of toilets. Besides constructing toilets in every school immediately, it plans to construct 12 crore toilets in rural India by October 2019. The aim is to provide every household a toilet and thus eliminate open defecation. Conversion of insanitary toilets to pour flush toilets and eradication of manual scavenging are an integral part of the mission´s objective. No doubt it is a truly national and noble mission, and if India says goodbye to open defecation by 2019, which is the promise of the prime minister, it will indeed be a splendid achievement.

The prime minister´s plan of cleanliness has generated a nationwide enthusiasm. But the litmus test of leadership is not noble intentions or utterances, but the actual results produced. Everyone knows that the success of the ´Clean India Mission´ hinges on the elimination of open defecation. It is not impossible, but the scale of the challenge- constructing 12 crore household toilets and thousands of public ones in schools and slums- is staggering. It will require not just the synergy between the political leadership, the state and the corporate sector, but also people´s participation and a brilliantly thought out plan that can work on the ground.

Sanitation Motivators
Our basic challenge is to build 12 crore household toilets by 2019, besides constructing toilets in all schools and public toilets in urban centres. We should begin with a vigorous cultural campaign for sanitation through all means of communications, in which the lead should come from the government agencies and the mass media. There is need to create and train a nationwide cadre of roughly 250,000 sanitation motivators who will create mass awareness about the need for construction of toilets and tell the people how to maintain them properly. The trained motivators will also monitor and supervise construction of individual household toilets. These motivators will work as a link between the beneficiary, panchayat members and the financial institu¡tions so that the programme is properly planned, implemented and the toilet utilisation progresses smoothly. India has a huge pool of unemployed educated youth; many of them are also eager to do something socially meaningful. It should be no problem to recruit the required trainee motivators. For this a productive partnership with the business houses and NGOs must be forged.

India has 690 districts, 5924 blocks, 2.5 lakh panchayats and 6,40,867 villages. To convince and bring along the masses for toilet construction, we need one motivator for each panchayat. This means we need roughly 250,000 motivators and Rs 2000 should be given to each of them for motivation, education, communication, implementation, maintenance and follow-up. These motivators will have to be properly trained for carrying out their assigned task.

Presently, as per Government of India´s guidelines, the estimated cost of individual household latrine (IHHL) is Rs 12,000 with contribution from Government of India, state government and beneficiary. As per the present cost of material, it is rather impossible to construct a good toilet functioning for at least 10 years at this cost. This needs to be enhanced in view of the current inflation to Rs 25,000. The cost of construction of each of these individual toilets can vary and will be borne by individuals, with cost being met through subsidy supplemented by bank loan. With numerous designs available to the beneficiary, he can choose one which suits his means. It is envisaged that a beneficiary will construct the toilet on loan-cum-subsidy basis.

Subsidy to the beneficiary should be passed on through a bank that gives the loan and the bank before doing so will satisfy itself that the loan given to the beneficiary has been utilised properly. The point is, if the banks are directly involved then the financial burden on the government is limited to the subsidy amount. The bank will ensure that there is physical achievement; only after the bank´s certification, the beneficiary will get the release of subsidy. Thus, the banks too will become a stakeholder.

The role of the bank is important because the usual financing pattern of funds being passed on to the state government and then to local bodies is very time-consuming and the progress is tardy as has often been witnessed. The government passing on the subsidy to the bank will not only mean its proper utilisation, but will also reach the right person and in addition will be an incentive to the bank to readily disburse the loan to a beneficiary. The panchayat need not be involved in the release of subsidy. If the loan-cum-subsidy involves only the beneficiary and the bank, the physical achievement is ensured and the red tape is cut.

In this mission, the role of NGOs and the motivators will be critical. The NGOs working in tandem with the motivators will ensure that tangible achievement takes place according to the expenditure shown. Their role will also be to take the technology to the beneficiary, and to ensure that dry latrines are replaced wherever they exist and new toilets constructed where there are none. In the verification of physical target being achieved, the system of reply paid postcard can be introduced, whereby the beneficiary informs that the toilet has been constructed, also mentioning the defect, if any, so that the construction agency (i.e., the NGO) can set right the defect. The NGO can also give guarantee for a given period of time to effect cost-free defect removal. Sulabh has practised this system successfully over the years. Recently, nearly 12,000 toilets in rural areas of Punjab have been built on this basis.

Alongside the construction of household toilets, there will be construction of toilets in schools, the cost of which will vary depending upon the size and location of the school. The public toilets can vary from five seats to 35 seats. They will be built in public places and will be self-sustaining when run on pay-and-use basis. This will be valid for urban areas. The key to running a public toilet efficiently is its maintenance. This can be handled by NGOs in urban centres, but in rural area the responsibility can be discharged by the panchayat.

Summing up, if the above plan is implemented and a synergy is generated for the sanitation movement, it will ensure a combination of skill development, speedy implementation, and desired result produced. It will make India not only free from open defecation, but also generate employment for a large number of people in the form of sanitation motivators, masons, and artisans engaged in production of materials for toilet construction.

A Case Study

Sulabh´s Swacch Bharat Experience
In 1970, when Sulabh was founded, it focussed on two primary goals: to prevent environmental and water pollution by promoting cost-effective sanitation facilities, and to liberate the manual scavengers, traditionally engaged in manual cleaning of human excreta. During four decades of our work, we have constructed 1.3 million household toilets and 8,000 community toilet complexes being used by 15 million people every day. We have also liberated and rehabilitated thousands of manual scavengers. But the environmental pollution remains a huge challenge, and an estimated 700 million Indians still lack toilets. Sulabh, however, has shown the way to overcome the problem. Sulabh not merely constructed toilets but its founder, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, invented an environmentally safe and cost-effective two-pit, pour flush, on-site compost toilet (which could easily be constructed from locally available materials and thus with minimum cost), which has been recognised as one of the best global technologies for safe disposal of human waste. Also, the Sulabh model of pay-and-use community toilets in urban centres and an effective mechanism of maintenance have proved successful all over India.

This article has been authored by Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Sociologist & Social Reformer; Founder, Sulabh Sanitation Movement.

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