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Home >Politics >Policy >Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan: Enough funds, but not enough awareness

New Delhi: More than 68% households do not have toilets in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district, according to the 2011 Census. Four out of five rural households in the district do not have toilets.

Katara Sadatganj, a small village in Badaun district, was recently in the news for the gruesome rape and lynching of two teenage girls who had ventured out in the open field, as they had always done, since there was no toilet at home.

Badaun is also one of the 607 districts in the country where the Union government is running the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), its flagship sanitation programme.

While the Union government has earmarked 34,377 crore in the 12th Five-Year Plan towards this scheme, experts feel that there is a serious lack of government intervention in creating awareness and community engagement.

Some also feel that the convergence of NBA and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has not dovetailed smoothly, creating gaps in implementation.

Vijay Krishna, director of the sanitation programme at Arghyam, a Bangalore-based not-for-profit that grants funds to organizations to implement and manage groundwater and sanitation projects in the country, said: “The disbursal of incentive is hampered in many ways. Transfers from the Centre to state to district and below are delayed due to many factors, so sometimes when payments are pending, the money is not there in the appropriate coffers."

NBA grew out of one of the first unified Union government initiatives in sanitation—the 1986 Central Rural Sanitation Programme.

In 1999, the scheme was modified into the Total Sanitation Campaign, which included personal hygiene, home sanitation, safe water, garbage disposal, excreta disposal and waste water disposal.

In 2012, this campaign was expanded and renamed the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan by Congress minister Jairam Ramesh, who held the portfolio of drinking water and sanitation.

NBA increased coverage to provide individual household latrines to both below- and above-poverty line households within every panchayat and to offer sanitation facilities in government schools, anganwadis and other government premises as well as facilitate a system for solid and liquid waste management.

But many believe that the usage of the earmarked funds remains a bottleneck in implementing the scheme.

“Funds for the NBA were inadequate. While that is a problem, what adds to it is that states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra are not able to utilize the funds and there are unspent balances," said Kanika Kaul, senior programme officer at New Delhi-based policy research and advocacy organization Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA).

According to the 2011 Census, 53.1% of all Indian households did not have any access to toilets, an improvement from 2001, when 63.6% of all households did not have toilets.

NBA’s goal is to achieve 100% access to sanitation for all rural households by the year 2022.

The situation becomes grimmer when seen from the perspective of women, and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SCs/STs).

Of the 27 million female-headed households in India, more than half did not have access to toilets.

Toilet facilities among backward classes were also lacking. More than 66% of the 44.2 million SC households and 77% of the 23.3 million ST households did not have any toilet facilities in or even around their homes.

“Sanitation is inextricably linked with women’s well-being, but the ministry of drinking water and sanitation is not implementing gender-responsive budgeting," Kaul said.

An ongoing study by CBGA, which is yet to be released, finds that NBA’s responsiveness to women users and the SC/ST population needs to improve.

“While the ministry has started earmarking funds under the scheduled caste sub-plan and tribal sub-plan, there is a need to strengthen the implementation of these budgetary strategies to ensure equitable access of all sections of population to sanitation facilities," noted the report.

However, many feel that awareness of the need of using toilets has to be increased if government policies are to benefit end-users.

“The involvement of government officials, who implement these programmes, is very low. The need for toilets has to be explained to the common people. We have worked on the ground and this, we find, is the biggest roadblock," said Rajive Ranjan, project coordinator at Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Institute, a not-for-profit organization.

“The biggest problem is that the people are not involved. We are working for the people, but we are not talking to them, we are not asking them what they need," said Ranjan, who has worked in Bihar and is based out of Patna.

The key to improving effective sanitation is “demand creation", he said. But government officials “do not have the time" for community engagement and so the users never become stakeholders in the process.

However, in states such as Uttar Pradesh, the statistics continue to remain uninspiring. Of the nearly 33 million households in the state, as many as 64.4% did not have any toilets, according to the 2011 Census, registering only a marginal improvement from 68.6% in 2001.

“Hardware provision can be given, but the common people need motivation to use it. We make the toilets and then expect that they will be used. But often these structures are used for storage or as animal sheds. The approach should instead be demand-driven," said Abdul Ahad Janbaz, district project coordinator for NBA for Baduan district.

Many, however, are optimistic.

“In the current scheme of things, this is very much a last-mile delivery problem. Wherever successful, it is seen that the cycle of awareness for need of toilets, processing of applications under the scheme, and release of money have happened in a mission mode with the state, community and citizen bodies working with urgency and priority. This needs replication and very often requires much more planning, focus and energy than is usually available," Krishna of Arghyam said.

anuja@livemint.com

This is the fourth part of a Mint series on Toilets for India.

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