Can Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) propel India out of the sanitation shame?

The Joint Monitoring Programme, assessing the water and sanitation status globally, reveals that about fifty percent of open defecators of the world are from India. Many other studies indicate that among people who practice open defecation in India, a significant number of them prefer to do so despite having access to toilets. Even today, one in every ten urban resident goes for open defecation. This indicates that mere focus on building toilets is not sufficient and significant push is required for bringing in behavioural change.

In comparison to rural sanitation, urban sanitation has not received adequate attention at
the national level in the past and fewer initiatives have been taken to tackle deficiencies in urban sanitation. Similarly, in comparison to urban water supply schemes, urban sanitation has traditionally been receiving much less fund allocations. While some progress has been made in terms of urban sanitation coverage after the launch of National Urban Sanitation Policy 2008,the service is generally of poor quality and is unsustainable, heavily reliant on government subsidies for capital as well as operations & maintenance costs. The World Bank-MoUD Report (2012): Improving Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Services in India states that poor managerial and financial autonomy, limited accountability, weak cost recovery, perverse incentives and limited capacity of urban local bodies (ULBs)have led to poor services across the country.

As India becomes more urbanised, issues of discharge of sewage will increase. Additionally, the different types of waste generated such
as municipal solid waste, e­waste, biomedical waste, plastic waste, construction and demolition waste, and liquid waste, will need various approaches and technologies for their management. Under the Swachh Bharat Mission (urban), there is a renewed focus on building household toilets, albeit many challenges such as property tenure rights, sludge disposal issues, and mind-set change.

Though an individual household toilet is the most preferred solution, community toilets could serve as a medium­term alternate solution to achieve total sanitation. Community toilet model ensures that the sludge management is centralized and the loads on sewer lines are reduced. The faecal sludge matter can be utilized for biogas generation, or the nutrients can be recovered for fertilizers production in a commercially viable manner. It is pertinent to look for an alternative model which will function under different field conditions and help in closing the loop on sanitation in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.

With emerging business models around community toilets (a mix of 'Pay and Use' model combined with recycling faecal sludge in to
fertilizers), attractive economic incentives like discount vouchers to users can be designed to attract people to use these toilets on a daily basis and bring in behavioural change. There are already few organizations who have started adopting similar schemes like 'Use and get paid' to expand users of community toilets. One of such models has been recently cleared by the Standing Committee of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation ( AMC). This concept has also been promoted by an NGO named SCOPE in the Tiruchirappalli District of Tamil Nadu, which uses the waste for farming purposes in an environmentally safe manner. Similarly, a Kenya based organization named Sanergy has taken systems­based approach to solve the sanitation challenge sustainably. They have built a network of fresh life toilets run by operators picked from the informal settlements. At a centralized location, the waste from these sanitation facilities is converted into useful by­products such as organic fertilizer and renewable energy. These organic fertilizers meet the WHO compliance standards and are sold to a variety of Kenyan farmers.

There are a number of such other innovative and replicable models developed by various organizations, which can be explored and customized to the cultural and geographical contexts. Concerted, concentrated and sustained effort by various stakeholders under the overarching goal of Swachh Bharat Missions (Urban)could propel India out of the sanitation shame.