– By Tanaya Chavan
Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan which was introduced on 2nd October, 2014 was an ambitious step in driving the nation towards achieving Gandhian ideals mentioned in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the constitution whereby Article 47 provides that it shall be the primary duty of state to ensure public health inclusive of environment. It also is in alignment with the Sustainable development goals of clean water and sanitation and goal of sustainable cities and communities.
Its broad aim was to achieve a Greener India via its objectives which included elimination of open defecation, eradication of manual scavenging and promotion of scientific methods of solid waste management. It comprised of two sub-missions i.e. Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen for rural areas which was under the Ministry of Drinking water and sanitation and Swachh Bharat Mission Urban for the urban areas which was under the Ministry of Urban Development.
The importance of sanitation for improved health outcomes is of utmost importance for developing countries like India. In 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission had set out to attain this by securing open defecation free rural areas.
As for India, it has historically seen the significance of planned settlements and hygienic practices since the time of Harappan civilisation. To carry this tradition ahead is necessary not only for ensuring sustainable habitats but also for upholding the standard of living of citizens. A clean and hygienic habitat is a right in modern times and crucial to eradicate diseases amidst poverty. The Swachh Bharat initiative has seen tremendous citizen participation since its inception which is why it has become a movement of a mass scale across the country. These cleanliness drive initiatives by different non-governmental organisations and the government have seen participation from multifarious sections of society making it an all-encompassing endeavour for sanitation.
Swachh Bharat Mission Urban (SBMU)
When it was launched in 2014, it aimed at sanitation coverage along with better municipal solid waste management and hygiene in the urban areas. It was able to achieve this revolutionary target of 100 per cent access to sanitation facilities in urban areas with construction of over 70 lakh public, community and household toilets. Thereby, in 2019, urban India was declared as open defecation free by providing dignified and safe sanitation solutions to all. Further, digital innovations such as locating Swachh Bharat Mission toilets on Google maps and grievance redressal of citizens via Swachhata application has been a welcome feature in making Swachh Bharat Mission truly urban.
Swachh Bharat Mission Urban 2.0
To carry forward the gains of Swachh Bharat Mission Urban, its successor, Swachh Bharat Mission Urban 2.0 was launched in October, 2021 with new objectives. It envisages creation of “garbage free” cities along with greywater management supplemented by overall better municipal solid waste management by carrying out remediation of dumpsites. It has special emphasis on proper solid waste management by employing new scientific methods and processes to ensure better sanitation for urban areas.
To give direction to Swachh Bharat Mission Urban 2.0, a new document called National Behaviour Change Communication Framework for Garbage Free Cities has been launched. It seeks to ingrain principle of 3 R’s i.e. reduce, reuse, recycle in treatment of urban waste and also gives impetus to circular economy and furthers the achievement of sustainable development goals. The mission also looks to set up waste processing facilities as well as Material Recovery Facilities to keep up with the demand for treating garbage better.
To ensure that wastewater is safely treated and stored and poses no threat to the environment, complete liquid waste management will be rolled out for the cities and focus will be on source segregation of garbage. To ensure safety and well-being of sanitation workers, it also seeks to provide them safety gear and kits and other personal protective equipment in tie up with other schemes of the government for their welfare, safety and hygienic condition.
The Department of drinking water and sanitation under the Ministry of Jal Shakti is also working to discover new cost effective strategies and technologies for solid waste management, rejuvenation of local water bodies, and treatment of plastic wastewhich can be employed for the long run in realising the ideal of waste to wealth.
Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen (SBMG)
Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan Grameen which is the rural leg of the mission has been high priority because, before it began, the number of toilets in rural areas in comparison to the urban areas was way less which made rural areas more easily prone to open defecation. As per its website, over 100 million toilets were constructed for achieving the goal of open defecation free (ODF) districts, villages, states and Union territories by the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji in 2019.
Swachh Survekshan Grameen 2022 (SSG)
The Swachh Survekshan Grameen has been carried out by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti since 2018 and in 2022 the survey was able to cover 17,599 villages which involved successful participation of households at large.
Methods like Direct Observation, Service level progress and Citizens feedback were employed in gathering of data before analysis. The basic objectives of the survey were ascertaining the progress of Swachh Bharat Mission, raising awareness and ensuring citizen’sparticipation as well as progress of solid waste management. The survey was carried in consultation with the districts and the states to make sure its on ground success.
Key Findings of SSG 2022:
- Citizens Feedback
- Nearly 84.5 % citizens attributed rural sanitation to Swachh Bharat Mission
- Around 87.6 % Key Informants reported on all households having access to toilets in their villages
- Almost 60.3 % were satisfied with Solid and Liquid Waste Management being implemented
- Direct Observation
- 6 % public places observed had access to toilet facilities
- Door-to-door solid waste collection was observed in 32.9% villages
- Menstrual Waste Management facilities observed in 10.6% villages
- Service Level Progress
- 8% districts have begun Open Defecation Free (ODF) Plus implementation in 100% of their blocks
- Nearly 88% districts had developed an integrated plan for end to end management of plastic
Being one of the world’s largest behaviour change programs, Swachh Bharat Mission has rightly changed lives of millions of citizens by nudging them towards not only demanding sanitation and toilets but also towards sustaining their usage by households. This sanitation and hygiene drive has led to better awareness of solid and liquid waste management and also regarding menstrual hygiene facilities.
The first phase of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan Grameen which was carried out between 2014-2019 saw success of its objective of achieving 100 per cent rural sanitation as well as made our country Open Defecation Free.
The on-going Phase Two of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan Grameen will be carried out between 2019-2025 with special emphasis on achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) Plus status for villages by making sure the villages sustain the toilets and sanitation of rural areas.
Impact on Women
A study titled “Access to toilets and the safety, convenience and self respect of women in rural India” which was carried out by UNICEF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Ministry of Jal Shakti on the impact of Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen on safety outcomes for women has highlighted the importance of this mission for betterment of women. The social engagement and women participation in this mission is crucial as women and girls are the principal stakeholders of the sanitation goal.
Prior to 2014 when only around 40 per cent households had access to a toilet, it posed an array of issues for women who had to access toilets away from home which made them prone not only to diseases but also sexual harassment by men. This unavailability of toilets within household also led to poor menstrual hygiene practices which made women susceptible to bladder infections and undernourishment. Provision of toilets in rural households via this mission has helped in destigmatising the issue and raised awareness on creation of menstrual hygiene facilities for women at the community level and addressing reproductive health of women.
As per the study, nearly 93 per cent of the women reported that they were no longer afraid of contracting health infections or being hurt by someone or animals while defecating. This indicated that trust deficit in addressing safety of the women had been reduced. Moreover, even men reported that inconvenience in accessing sites outside households had been reduced for them which means it has resulted in safety enhancement of both men and women.
Without a private toilet, women previously would deliberately reduce their food and liquid intake to control the urge to urinate and defecate. This was a practice detrimental to their nourishment and reproductive health. However, access to toilets has addressed this problem as women no longer have to wait until late evening or dark to defecate. They can eat whenever they want now and also save time which was spent on commuting to these defecation sites. Women, in fact, reported feeling a sense of pride in owning private toilets since they no longer have to take care of their hygienic requirements out in the public.
What has also changed is that women are now more likely to invite guests after construction of toilets in the household premises as previously they sensed awkwardness and embarrassment from community for not having a toilet as it indicated low economic and social status. Having sanitation facilities in household premises has enhanced the self respect of both men and women alike. Women no longer have to depend on extra social support as earlier they had to seek help from community to look after their children or elderly when they had to leave the house to defecate at a distance. Addressing this problem has also led to less anxiety and stigma for women and girls.
In conclusion, the Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen has ensured that women feel safer and convenient in their routine sanitation practices while ensuring their self respect and dignity.
Impact on Children
Schools are an enabling environment for all round development of children and hence sanitation and hygiene in school premises is of utmost significance. As per 2017 figures, around 92 per cent of schools had access to toilets and litter free surroundings. Similar was the case in Aanganwadi centres and primary health centres since the launch of the mission. The Swachh Sankalp se Swachh Siddhi campaign saw participation nearly five crore school children in the first phase of the mission.
A survey was carried out by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the comparative studies between open defecation free and non open defecation free areas on children’s health parameters like stunting, wasting and diseases like diarrhoea. It signalled that becoming open defecation free ensures better nutrition as children from open defecation free areas reported better nutritionally than the children in non open defecation free areas. Also, it highlighted that the prevalence of diarrhoea among children in open defecation free areas was relatively low in comparison to the children in non open defecation free areas. Correspondingly, in the area of study, there was an increase in the treatment seeking behaviour among the respondents in open defecation free areas in comparison to the non defecation free areas.
Impact on Health
The mission has not only achieved the set goals of sanitation but has also led to positive health outcomes in a larger sense. As per World Health Organisation, the mission is estimated to have potentially averted 3,00,000 deaths in 2019, preventing nearly 200 million cases of diarrhoea occurring annually prior to Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen. Cases of Malaria and Diarrhoea have reduced due to better sanitation along with supplementation of other healthcare interventions taken by the government which has resulted in better socio-economic outcomes. A study conducted by World Health Organisation showcased that since the mission began, there have been reduced cases of diarrhoea induced deaths owing to better sanitation coverage. This can be considered as a huge win in terms of health gains attained simply by providing basic hygiene facilities to the people alongside adoption of practices like frequent handwashing and so on.
The earlier survey by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation showed how children and their mothers residing in open defecation free areas were likely to be healthier with nearly 37 per cent less wasting cases. A UNICEF study on the environmental impact of Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen also showed that non open defecation free villages were more likely to face food, soil, drinking water and groundwater contamination in comparison to the open defecation free villages.
Going forward, as highlighted above, Open defecation free (ODF) is an important pillar of sanitation strategy under the Swachh Bharat Mission. And ensuring its sustainability is key to achievement of further targets in the wake of migration of people from rural to urban areas. New toilets have to be constructed while existing ones have to be maintained consistently to ensure sanitation and its gains are strengthened. This includes carrying out continuous communication for behaviour change, developing new infrastructure and making sure that nobody is left behind in this endeavour. Gram Panchayats at the village level can steer this effort by maintaining and improving community infrastructures of sanitation. The role of Gram Panchayats for implementation at the local level would also entail creating awareness regarding funding contribution from people and also creating action plans after assessing and figuring out gaps in water and other sanitation facilities. Conducting timely surveys for selecting appropriate solid waste management sites will also be necessary to complete the procedure in harmony. The Gram Panchayat development plan is also supposed to be a participatory process and in convergence with the phase two of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan so that the villages are encouraged to go from open defecation free to open defecation free plus status
In rural areas going forward, the solid waste management must be improved by employing appropriate technology and models which are suitable to their terrain and likely to last. For this, Fecal sludge management plants should be set up at community level in villages and they should be cost effective. On the other hand, capacity building and skilling of the sanitation workers as well as local body workers has to happen in line with adoption of new technology and methods.
Campaigns for awareness in the form of Swachhata Hi Seva which is celebrated every year to promote public participation are necessary to reinforce the idea that cleanliness is everybody’s responsibility and that everyone is a stakeholder in ensuring the success of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. These campaigns which include activities like building of waste collection infrastructure, segregation of non-biodegradable waste are crucial in prompting sustained behaviour change. The conversation surrounding sanitation and hygienic toilet habits finally seems to have taken off after a severely long delay but nevertheless, it is making way for more public discourse which is the right way forward for our nation.
To make the phase two of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan a success, overall inclusion of all women, men and youth must be ensured to further the discourse on sanitation for equitable outcomes. By leveraging the participation of all sections, a higher chance of sustainability of open defecation free status is assured while added benefits come along such as reported increase in safety of women and their personal experience of dignified living achieved in the last 8 years.