In 2014, India started its unprecedented sanitation journey, as consistent and concerted efforts began to create an Open-Defecation Free (ODF) nation. Considered the largest behavior change program in the world, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) drove every Indian village, to accomplish a massive milestone and by 2nd Oct 2019, as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary, every gram panchayat declared itself ODF with access to toilets for all. The impact is visible in terms of positive health outcomes, economic & social benefits, and gender empowerment leading to better standards of living, livelihood opportunities for women and better school attendance for girls. Independent studies have shown that diarrhoeal morbidity among children was significantly lower in ODF areas, & better nutritional status prevailed among children of ODF areas, as compared to non-ODF areas.
This year we mark 8 years of SBM; so what’s next for the sanitation movement in rural India? Hon’ble Prime Minister was clear in 2019 itself that we cannot just rest on our laurels. We, as a country must always strive to be the best and the leaders in every sphere of human development. Therefore, not stopping with the achievement of ODF status, the Govt. of India, embarked upon the journey of ODF Plus i.e. sustaining the ODF status, ensuring no one is left behind; and setting up a system of environment friendly management of solid and liquid waste. Taking bigger strides on the path of healthy behaviours, we are now working towards achieving ‘sampoorna swachhta’.
What is ODF Plus? It is about sustaining the ODF status of villages and managing the solid and liquid waste generated. There are primarily three components i.e. Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM), capacity building of stakeholders and behaviour change communication aimed at all. Achieving ‘ODF plus’ status is the key goal of SBM(G) phase II, launched in early 2020. Significant progress has been made in last 2.5 years as over 1.14 lakh villages declared themselves ODF Plus in varying degrees and around 3 lakh villages have initiated SLWM works to begin their journey of becoming ODF Plus.
Going beyond toilet construction and their usage, SBM(G) phase II is assisting States and UTs in creating assets for SLWM such as community compost pits, community bio-gas plants, plastic waste collection and segregation sheds, soak pits for grey-water treatment & reuse, faecal sludge management systems including waste collection & transportation vehicles. As on date, 77,141 villages, and 90 blocks have constructed 71 Plastic Waste Management Units. A special campaign – Sujlam, was executed for grey water management and construction of more than 22 lakh soak pits (community & household pits) took place across rural India.
An unfortunate legacy in managing faecal waste has been the practise of manual scavenging of sewers and septic tanks. Towards this, SBM-G has explored technological interventions required and currently 368 faecal sludge management arrangements have been instituted across 137 districts. Further, we expanded the scope of engaging start-ups for promoting innovation in areas like mechanized desludging and other aspects of SLWM in rural areas. A Start-up Grand Challenge was organized for crowd-sourcing technologies that could support sustainable, affordable, scalable, and responsive solutions to the SLWM challenges of rural areas.
A significant challenge of managing animal waste is being addressed through ‘Waste to Wealth’ initiative – GOBARdhan (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources). This scheme aims to utilize animal waste and bio- degradable waste generated in villages for bio-gas/CBG as well as bio-slurry/bio-fertilizer production, to not only bring income generation avenues to rural India but also reduce our dependence on related imports!
These assets (SLWM setups) being created and made functional for making villages ODF plus, are not only ensuring cleanliness, but also generating income and empowering the people involved especially women (individual & Self Help Groups), reducing pollution by productive utilisation of farm waste, improving soil health, & recharging ground water while improving the climate. The funds available under MGNREGS, 15th Finance Commission tied grants for Water & Sanitation (Rs. 1,40,000 crore over 5 years) as well as SBM(G) funds are being converged in rural areas and utilized to good effect.
To promote behavior change & community mobilization towards accelerating efforts of rural sanitation, since 2014 we have celebrated 15 days, from September 15th till October 2nd each year, as Swachhta Hi Sewa (SHS) – a dedicated participative cleanliness drive across the country. This year, the focus is on improving visual cleanliness and cleaning of legacy waste in villages. The response has been overwhelming with more than 9 crore people participating in various activities of SHS.
To validate the efforts and also engaging states in competitive federalism, Swachh Survekshan Grameen (SSG) is executed annually. An independent survey agency is engaged to asses and rank all States and districts of India on quantitative & qualitative ODF plus parameters viz. direct observation of sanitation public places, citizen’s feedback using a mobile app, feedback from key influencers at village level, and service level progress on sanitation parameters. SSG 2022 is the third round and its report will be released, along with felicitation of the winners, during Swachh Bharat Diwas (SBD) scheduled for 2nd October 2022.
The aim of achieving ODF Plus India appears daunting, and ensuring sanitation and clean water will always remain an ongoing activity. But, if taken up as a collective national responsibility, India can achieve its goal of Sampoorna Swachhta. Lets’ re-invigorate the ‘jan-andolan’ to now achieving and sustaining ODF-Plus status!
(The Author is Secretary, Deptt. of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, GoI)