By preemptively declaring states as open defecation free without providing access to water and sewerage, the scheme is a missed opportunity
The percentage share of India’s urban population has been steadily increasing. According to the 2011 Census, the urban population constitutes 31.16% share of the total population, which is projected to double by 2050. The growing importance that urban areas command today is also prominent in election manifestos of leading political parties.
When the BJP-led NDA government came to power, it promised to transform urban areas into “engines of economic growth” by providing them with the supportive infrastructure that would induce investments for trade and commerce.
Refocusing attention on water, sanitation and sewerage
One of the schemes launched during this period was the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) [SBM(U)]. The Mission aims to provide universal sanitation coverage by providing funds for constructing toilets (individual and public), promoting solid waste management and creating awareness about better health and sanitation.
Launched amid much fanfare in October 2014, the mission was widely endorsed by ministers, government officials and celebrities who lauded it for its noble cause of ‘Cleaning India’.
Another scheme which aimed to address the need for basic infrastructure in cities was the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) which was launched in 2015. The scheme aims to provide universal access to water supply and sewerage and septage management in 500 cities by 2020.
The mission also included other components such as stormwater drainage to reduce flooding, parks and green spaces, non-motorised and public transport facilities.
To ensure holistic development, both the SBM(U) and AMRUT should have worked in sync, especially in localities with poor infrastructure where the provision of sanitation facilities is dependent on access to water and sewerage networks. Let’s assess how the schemes have been implemented so far.
SBM(U) targets: Toilets and open defecation free cities
At its launch, the SBM(U) targeted the construction of 1.04 crore individual toilets. However, this target was subsequently reduced by 36% and revised to 66.4 lakh based on an assessment by states of current demand for toilets. As of December 2018, the total number of individual toilets constructed in the country stands at 53.65 lakh, which is 80.79% of the revised target.
In terms of numbers, a maximum number of toilets were constructed in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. These five states together account for 53% of all individual toilets constructed in the country.
The target for public toilets was set at 5.07 lakh by 2019. As of December 2018, a total of 88% of this target had been met. Construction of these toilets is concentrated in a few states. Maharashtra alone accounts for 24% of total public toilets constructed across the country.
Other states with high construction achievements include Tamil Nadu (19%), Uttar Pradesh (9%), Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh (6% each), and Chhattisgarh (5%). Together, these six states account for 50% of all community and public toilets constructed.
As of December 2018, nearly 4,123 cities were also declared open defecation free (ODF free) under the SBM’s competitive ranking system ‘Swachh Sarvekshan’.
Issues raised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee
Although the data provided by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) displayed a high achievement rate compared to other urban schemes, SBM(U) was criticised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Affairs in its 23rd report. The Committee noted ‘…local authorities/district collectors generally hurriedly declare the ODF status of cities to meet their targets and independent assessors rarely verify such claims’.
The report mentioned that the committee had come across several reports complaining that a sizable number of toilets built under the SBM(U) are not being used due to lack of water supply and that many public toilets are in a pathetic condition in terms of cleanliness. ‘The Committee has serious apprehensions that while chasing a deadline to declare the country ODF, the ground realities are being ignored’.
Despite being one of the most talked-about missions of the government, SBM(U) has been mired in controversy. According to an Indian Express report, a year after the Gujarat government declared that the state was ODF, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report dismissed the claim. The CAG said the claim “does not appear to be correct”. The report said:
The audit observed that the administration had declared all the districts as ODF on achieving the targets set out in the baseline survey conducted in 2012 … However, this list was not updated after 2012 and therefore, a number of households did not have any access to toilets and they remained uncovered.
Similar stories were reported from other parts of the country, where toilets were constructed but remained unused due to unavailability of water.
AMRUT and its focus on water connections and sewage systems
Some of the shortcomings of SBM(U), such as the lack of water connections in toilets and absence of robust sewage systems, could have been overcome if it had worked in synergy with its complimentary urban scheme, AMRUT.
The ministry has so far approved State Annual Action Plans (SAAPs) for all States and UTs for the entire AMRUT period amounting to Rs 77,640 crore. 345 projects worth Rs 78,979* crore are at various stages of implementation (see Table 1). Work has been completed on 993 projects worth Rs 2,308 crore, which is only 2.9% of the total SAAP size approved. Work is in progress for 3,140 projects worth Rs 52,518 crore, and tenders have been issued for 709 projects worth Rs 14,488 crore. The details of ongoing work at various stages of implementation are given in Table 1.
Table 1: Details on ongoing work
Issues raised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on AMRUT
The Parliamentary Standing Committee highlighted the issue of underutilisation of funds and inadequate performance under the AMRUT scheme. The committee was dismayed to note that even after four years of implementation, a ‘large number of projects worth crores of rupees are either stuck up at “Contract awarded” stage or at “tendering stage” leaving only a few as completed’.
Another important focus area of the AMRUT is to provide sewage connections to households. The Committee in its 22nd report observed that the number of sewerage connections provided under the scheme is inadequate in comparison to the number of households. The number and capacity of existing sewage treatment plants in various states also raises issues of serious concerns.
Although the committee mentioned its concern about the inadequacy of the available sewage treatment plants and the absence of data regarding sewage treatment, it mentioned that the ministry has not bothered to provide information on the same or even initiated action to collect data from the states. The committee, while expressing unhappiness over the callous attitude of the ministry, reiterated concerns about the futility of lakhs of toilets being constructed without proper provision for sewerage and drainage.
In response to criticism over the slow pace of work under AMRUT scheme, the ministry has said, in its reply to questions raised in the parliament, that it has been continuously monitoring projects. It claims that to have conducted independent reviews, while the apex committee constituted under the mission is proactively engaging with state governments through review meetings , field visits and video conferences.
The state of solid waste management
A key objective for achieving the goal of Clean India was 100% scientific processing and disposal of solid waste by 2019. Currently, India produces 1,43,558 tonnes of waste per day and is among the top ten countries generating the highest amount of municipal solid waste.
The waste generated by the states is usually directly proportional to its urban population. For example, of all states and union territories (UTs), Maharashtra generates the maximum amount of waste (16%). It is followed by Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with a share of 11% each. The only exception is Kerala, which stands as the tenth largest state with respect to urban population but generates only 1% of the country’s waste.
Currently, only 46% is being scientifically processed. The rest is disposed in dump yards or landfills by urban local bodies. This is alarming, as 19 states process less than 20% waste generated. Only seven states process more than 50% of the waste generated. These include Telangana, Sikkim, Goa, Chhatisgarh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Delhi.
This dismal state of waste management in the country is being attributed to the failure of the AMRUT scheme to provide urban local bodies with requisite funds for solid waste management. Currently, 60–70% of their expenditure is for street sweeping and 20–30% goes towards waste transportation purposes. They are not left with funds to undertake waste management projects.
The waste collection efficiency in India is also very low, as it ranges between 70–90% in metros and below 50% in small cities. It is highly disconcerting to note that door-to-door collection has reached only 82% of the households and source segregation has not moved beyond 48% in the country.
The infrastructure needed
Access to adequate water and sanitation
The supply of basic services, such as water and sanitation, has fallen miserably short of its demand in urban areas. The situation is worse in informal settlements as the majority of them lack water connections and sanitation facilities. The ministry should vigorously pursue states to focus more on the rejuvenation of water bodies, enforcement of water harvesting, promotion of reuse and recycling of water, reduction in distribution loss and prevention of unauthorised and unmetered water usage to enhance the livability of our cities.
The construction of toilets will be futile if they are not connected with proper sewerage and drainage systems. Therefore, the projects related to sewerage and drainage management should be given top priority and data on all parameters should be collected regularly from the states.
Robust water management systems
With pollution levels in cities growing and the overflowing of landfills, there is an urgent requirement to reinvent garbage management in cities so that waste is fully processed and not landfilled. The ministry should take steps to scale up waste processing in all states that are lagging behind and emphasise on segregation at source, primary collection, secondary storage, transportation, secondary segregation, resource recovery, processing, treatment and final disposal of solid waste to achieve 100% solid waste management in the country.
With a new government in office soon, the strategies for providing basic services to the urban areas should be intensified and efforts should be made to improve the on-ground implementation of these schemes. Urban local bodies in India, which lack critically in infrastructure and capability, should be provided support and equipped with better resources and avenues to enhance citizen participation in the management of urban areas.
Shaguna Kanwar works with Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) as a project coordinator — national programmes. Among other things, she works on data analyses of parliamentary sessions and advocacy with MPs on issues of urban poverty and informal labour. YUVA has conducted an in-depth analysis of the questions raised in the Indian parliament on urban issues in 2018 and you can read the complete report here.
This article first appeared in The Wire on 17 May 2019