Not a low hanging fruit to pluck

Swachh Bharat Mission faces a host of challenges in achieving its targets. The standards of cleanliness and spruceness are hazy among Indians. The governments, central, state and local, not just need massive investment in building infrastructure and capacity building but are also required to make people aware not to litter and to adopt sustainable lifestyle. This is also the appropriate time to step up on the standards of cleanliness and sanitation.

The 147th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi this year marked the second anniversary of Swachh Bharat Mission launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 2014. The mission objectives are not something new but the approach and focus of the flagship mission is much more vigorous than any similar programs started by the Government of India earlier. This is the first time Indian leadership has given due impetus and vigorous attention to cleanliness and sanitation drive. The scale and targets under the mission are larger than ever. The mission sets the target of making India open defecation free, eliminating manual scavenging, achieving 100 per cent waste collection in all municipalities and attitudinal change among masses before the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.  The relevant question is: can India achieve it within time? Two years have already gone but the annual targets set under the mission have missed deadlines in many states.

Are SBM targets slipping?

One of the key promises made under Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) was to make India open defecation free (ODF) by 2019, by constructing toilets for 1.04 crore households, apart from 250,000 community toilets and 260,000 public toilets.

The reality on the ground however paints a dismal picture and underlines that the government lags behind in meeting its target, particularly in rural India. As per Census 2011, 113 miilion rural households in India are without toilets. According to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment, 82.3 million (or 823 lakh) toilets are yet to be constructed across India by October 2, 2019. This means the country needs to build 2.3 million (23 lakh) toilets every month – or a formidable 56 toilets every minute – to meet the target.

Sunita Narain, Director General, CSE, pointed out, “Our experience and our work in air pollution bears out that change happens when we make a connection to people’s health. And the issue needs to be handled differently for rural and urban areas. While in the urban milieu toilets have to be linked with disposal and treatment systems, in rural areas the priorities should be to address the issue in the context of poverty, behavioural change by linking it with health, water availability, toilet design and waste disposal.”

However, the government claims that they are progressing at good speed and will meet the target in time. A media statement released by the Ministry of Urban Development says, “During the two years of Swachh Bharat Mission, 22,97,389 individual household toilets have so far been constructed in urban areas of the country as against the  five year mission target of 66,42,221 such toilets to be built by 2019. With 35 per cent of mission target being met in two years i.e. 40 per cent of the mission duration, construction of toilets meant for ending Open Defecation in urban areas is broadly on course.

“405 cities and towns have so far claimed to have become Open Defecation Free along with 20,000 of the 82,000 urban wards in the country. Another 334 cities and towns would become ODF by March next year.”

Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have declared all cities and towns in their respective states as Open Defecation Free (ODF).A few districts including Porbandar have also been declared ODF on the 147th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi celebrated recently. On the occasion, M Venkaiah Naidu said “Declaration of Porbandar district and other areas as Open Defecation Free today is an interim gift to Mahatma on the occasion of his birth anniversary today and the final gift of Swachh Bharat would be presented to Gandhiji on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary on October 2, 2019. The Mood of Developing India (MODI) being strongly for sanitation, Swachh Bharat Mission is becoming a people’s movement and Swachh Bharat will be realized with people leading the grand India Sanitation Alliance of all stakeholders”.

Another problem being faced at local level includes traditional approach towards sanitation in communities. In many states the institutional structures for sanitation are not yet in place. Many of them are grappling with the shortage of human resources required to motivate people and bring about change at community level. Governments have made efforts to mobilize the army of foot soldiers that includes volunteers, school and college going students, non-government organisations, government employees and public representatives and many others for the cause. The objective is to inform and educate where knowledge of the importance of sanitation is missing or where inculcating new habits requires persistent reasoning, triggering and persuasion.

The mission has been divided in two sub categories—Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).  These programs will be implemented, monitored and supervised by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and Ministry of Urban Development respectively. The government has put in 62,000 cr for the mission and also introduced a new levy called the Swachh Bharat cess to pay for Swachh Bharat Mission. The cess, a form of service tax, came into effect on November 15, 2015. According to the Revenue Secretary’s estimates, the cess will mop up Rs 10,000 crore in a financial year. However, experts have raised concerns as there is no clarity on how the money generated through the cess will be utilized. Section 119 of the Finance Act 2015, under which it has been levied, says the cess is meant to finance and promote Clean India initiatives or “for any other purpose relating thereto”. This broad phrasing is just one of the questionable things about the Swachh Bharat cess.

Public engagement

The NDA government has been trying to engage celebrities, ministers, leaders from all political parties and people at large to ensure mass movement for cleanliness. When Prime Minister announced the programme he had nominated a few famous persons to take up the cause of cleaning India and asked them to nominate people further in their social group to turn SBM into a mass movement. However, media reports suggest that cleaning streets had become a photo op for many who want to be in good books of their political maestro.  The initiative was criticized but it had brought cleanliness among the topics of discussions in social circle. Rallies, shramadan, village and ward level meetings became regular affairs in many rural and urban areas across the county for further sensitizing the people about cleanliness. Many corporate and government departments started taking initiatives to ensure cleanliness in their office premises or work areas.

The government had also launched a Short Film competition on which it called for entries from film makers to make short films on sanitation in English, Hindi or any other official language. The goal was to encourage participative approach for Clean India. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting invited entries of inspiring stories that can help generate awareness among citizens about sanitation and its linkages with public health. The competition aimed to generate such awareness by involving people from different backgrounds, different regions and from different age groups. The length of the film entries was restricted to three minutes. Young filmmaker Katyayan Shivpuri from Maharashtra won the first prize for his work Murga. The short film promoting the idea of clean India had Murga as the metaphor depicting the victims that citizens have made of themselves and of the children by not keeping the surroundings clean.

After all these movements and initiatives, the major challenge is to sustain these efforts to achieve targets and move on to advanced stages of handling waste and maintaining cleanliness. India needs to step on its standards of cleanliness and sanitation to ensure healthy environment to its people.

SBM Objectives

  1. Elimination of open defecation
  2. Eradication of Manual Scavenging
  3. Modern and Scientific Municipal Solid Waste Management
  4. To effect behavioural change regarding healthy sanitation practices
  5. Generate awareness about sanitation and its linkage with public health
  6. Capacity Augmentation for ULB’s
  7. To create an enabling environment for private sector participation in Capex (capital expenditure) and Opex (operation and maintenance)


October 2, 2019


  • Household toilets, including conversion of insanitary latrines into pour-flush latrines;
  • Community toilets
  • Public toilets
  • Solid waste management
  • IEC & Public Awareness
  • Capacity building and Administrative & Office Expenses (A&OE)
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