New Delhi: India accounts for more than half the people worldwide who defecate in the open, and yet state governments have spent less than 40% of the money allocated to them this fiscal for improving sanitation facilities.

The central government has released 776 crore to state governments this fiscal under the total sanitation campaign (TSC), a scheme to eradicate open defecation by providing sanitation facilities in rural areas. Only 293 crore has been utilized so far, according to data available with the Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation.

File photo of poor sanitation and unhygenic conditions in Sawda Ghevra slums. Photo by Harikrishna Katragadda/ Mint.

“These states have huge unspent balances and the ministry has requested them to reduce that," said an official at the ministry of drinking water and sanitation, asking not to be identified. “Sanitation is a very important area and it is critical that along with the centre, states also take it seriously."

About 58% of the world’s population practising open defecation lives in India, according to UNICEF report.

The ministry of drinking water and sanitation is trying to revamp sanitation schemes to make them more efficient.

Jairam Ramesh, minister of drinking water and sanitation as well as rural development, last week said he plans to integrate a rural housing programme with schemes to provide clean water and sanitation. He stressed on the need to step up allocation for sanitation, but admitted some states were not spending the money already being allocated.

The ministry of drinking water and sanitation has a budget allocation of 11,000 crore for this fiscal. The drinking water programme has been allocated 9,350 crore, while the remaining 1,350 crore is for sanitation programmes.

“The issue of unspent balances is a huge problem and always has been. We also did a study on government schemes, including on TSC, and found most states had very low utilization figures," said Trisha Agarwala, research officer at the New Delhi-based Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

Agarwala said state governments do look at sanitation as a priority area, but their understanding of the TSC scheme and its guidelines is poor, and this hobbles implementation.

“The delay, in fact, happens at all levels. The districts submit their project implementation plans to the state late and that, coupled with delays at every level, slows down the entire process," Agarwala said.