Swacch Bharat Abhiyan after a year: Four ways the govt can make it really work

The Swacch Bharat initiative needs to evolve substantially as it cannot just continue as it is.

K Yatish Rajawat October 02, 2015 13:07:16 IST
Swacch Bharat Abhiyan after a year:  Four ways the govt can make it really work

On Thursday the Minister of Urban Development announced the progress of the Swacch Bharat Mission.  According to him, it’s a process and not a one-time activity, due to which continuous efforts need to be made. As required, the Minister reeled off statistics on the money spent and toilets constructed. The most important aspect of any mission, especially one that is so dependent on social behaviour of citizens,  needs to be better geared around engagement. PM Narendra Modi is unlikely to make any major announcements on Friday.  However, the intiative needs to evolve substantially as it cannot just continue as it is.

There are a five things that the government can still do to ensure that Swacch Bharat does better in the coming years than it has done in its first year. Among connected citizens the response to the mission has been limited to say the least (read here and here). The most important gap that has not been fulfilled is the urban local bodies.

Swacch Bharat Abhiyan after a year  Four ways the govt can make it really work

A file photo of PM Modi initiating the Swacch Bharat initiative. PTI image

Getting urban local bodies on board: If we look at sanitation in the cities the municipal corporation or the urban development authorities are responsible for collection and disposal of waste. Unfortunately, these bodies are the most dysfunctional part of the government. Most state governments have not empowered these bodies and they are still used as banks by corrupt politicians. Though, a number of states now have elections at city level for the post of the mayor, not a single state has devolved financial autonomy to the Mayor’s council. Therefore, elected members do not have any power over plans or programs to be implement in their city. All they can do is make noise about the lack of sanitation in the city.  The 73 and 74 amendment to the constitution pushed for autonomy to local bodies and the central government has tried to goad state governments to implement it. The only way to push the state to dilute fiscal powers to cities is by making it mandatory for Swacch Bharat Mission, AMRUT and even for the smart city project to be implemented.

Clean and then smart cities: The only way Swacch Bharat Mission will become important for states is if it is linked to more funding. A carrot and stick approach will be the only thing that can work if cities need to perform. It is important for cities to realize that a city cannot be smart if it is not clean. The city needs to invest in sanitation that includes waste collection and disposal. Currently, the waste collection process in most cities is broken and hampered by unions of safai workers.

The government shies away from recruiting more people in this department as it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage them. The ideal model here is splitting the city into private and public zones for collection and putting together an incentive structure for public safai workers. But the bigger issue in cities is disposal and here technology and funding is needed.

Improving waste disposal technology:  Indian cities are still dumping waste outside the city limits, they do not have any strategy for waste disposal. Over the years the dumping yards which used to be outside the city limits have been surrounded by habitation. Citizens have been agitating to remove these dumps. The problem is that the amount of waste from cities is increasing so rapidly that more dumps are becoming landfills. An effective waste disposal policy has to be combined with segregated waste collection in the city. The challenge is also capital, as waste disposal units are not cheap to install if they have to be pollution free.

Very few cities have invested in building large scale incinerators and the only way out is to create an institutional mechanism like Urban Infrastructure Investment Corporation  (UIIC). Cities the world over are raising funding through institutional mechanisms and size can only be created if a financial institution backs these investments. It is time for this idea to become reality in India too. If funding is the challenge in urban India, social change is the challenge in rural India.

Finding partners to change social behaviour:  The Minister announced that the rural ministry has outperformed its targets in terms of building toilets since the biggest sanitation challenge in rural areas is open defecation. Here the need is more acute in terms of changing social behaviour and are great examples of this are leaders of various faiths. Several organisations and leaders of faiths have been working in this area. Unfortunately the rural ministry has not been able synchronize its efforts with these organizations. After all a toilet has to be used once its built.

K Yatish Rajawat is columnist and policy commentator based in Delhi, he tweets @yatishrajawat

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