“Sanitation is more important than political independence”, claimed Mahatma Gandhi. Given his 150th birth anniversary this 2nd October and on the occasion of 5 years since the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it is imperative that we assess the success of this flagship scheme of the government. It’s not that schemes for total sanitation were not present before. In 1999, the Total Sanitation Campaign was launched which was rechristened as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 2012 by the then UPA government. For the sake of uniformity, we take a period of five years and compare the progress of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) from 2009-2014 and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) from 2014-2019.
The seriousness of any government is seen from the funds allocated to the particular scheme. The NDA government in its five years has cumulatively allocated more than two times the funds allocated by UPA in its five years. One point to be noted is that even states spend on sanitation. After 2014-15, the 14th Finance Commission recommendations were accepted and 42% funds of the central divisible pool were given to the states. Ideally, the funding should have reduced on the part of central government. Quite the opposite, the funding increased as seen from the data in the Economic Survey 2018-19.
Not only did the allocations were less, the CAG report in 2015 even claims that in the five years of UPA, there was shortfall in the actual utilization of funds. The shortfall ranged anywhere between 40% to 56% of the allocated funds. All this reflects on the seriousness of the government to implement the scheme. On the contrary, the Economic Survey 2018-19 says the fund utilization since 2014-15 is in the range of 90% to 98%.
Sanitation Coverage and Toilets Built
The very fact that since 1947 till 2014, the sanitation coverage barely reached 38.7% is a damning indictment of the failure of all previous schemes to achieve total sanitation. The failure of implementation, lack of center-state coordination and lack of will made the dream of Open Defecation Free India a distant reality. The progress has been so rapid after 2014 that as the scheme completes five years on 2nd October, India has achieved almost 100% sanitation coverage. The number of toilets built has crossed 10 crores with 699 districts declared as Open Defecation Free till date.
The same report by CAG in 2015 about the progress of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan states that as “against the objective of construction of 426.32 lakh and 469.76 lakh Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) for Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty Line families, respectively, Project districts could construct only 222.32 lakh (52.15 per cent) and 207.55 lakh (44.18 per cent) IHHLs during 2009-10 to 2013-14.”
Thus, barely 4.27 crore toilets (222 lakh + 207 lakh) could be constructed during the five years of UPA. Compare this against the achievement of 10 crore toilets being built in the five years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Actual Usage of Toilets
Merely building the toilets is not enough. The real impact is seen when the toilets are being used regularly by the people. The CAG report on Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan claims that in the 53 districts checked, the “proportion of defunct toilets was found to be more than 33 per cent (24.03 lakh out of total 71.86 lakh households) due to reasons like poor quality of construction, incomplete structure, non-maintenance, etc.” It means one out of every three toilets constructed was defunct.
The NDA government conducted an independent survey under National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) in 2018-19 which surveyed the toilets constructed. It claims that 93.1% of the rural households had access to toilets and, 96.5% of the people who had access to toilets used them. The number of defunct toilets is remarkably low under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Expenditure on Creating Awareness
Undoubtedly, the awareness about cleanliness and sanitation is at an all time high in India after the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Funds for Information, Education and Communication (IEC) forms an important part of the budget of both NBA and SBA. The creatives, online campaigns, advertisements all come under this head. Through an RTI query, the Scroll rues that NDA government spent Rs 530 crores in advertisement under SBA since 2014, which is about 180 crores per year, which many called as splurging of public money.
The CAG report mentioned above poked holes in the IEC fund utilization under NBA. The UPA allocated about 115 crores in the five years interval for IEC. The CAG says that in the first three years, 25% of the IEC funds were spent on totally unrelated activities like “catering charges”, “booking of Vigyan Bhawan”, etc. The NDA government understood it rightly that sanitation is about changing mindsets and hence proper funds must be allocated.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi while launching the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014 has said that, “A clean India is the best tribute we can pay to Bapu when we celebrate his 150th birth anniversary in 2019. Mahatma Gandhi devoted his life so that India attains ‘Swarajya’. Now the time has come to devote ourselves towards ‘Swachchhata’ (cleanliness) of our motherland.” The statistics regarding the scheme clearly underline the fact that Swachh Bharat has shown a progress over earlier schemes and India has definitely progressed to fulfill the dream of Mahatma Gandhi.