Swachh Bharat pins hope on laggard states’ turnaround
The latest impetus has come from the largest state, which is also one of the worst when it comes to lack of toilets. UP is promising a turnaround under the Yogi Adityanath government.
The latest impetus has come from the largest state, which is also one of the worst when it comes to lack of toilets. Uttar Pradesh is promising a turnaround under the Yogi Adityanath government. The new chief minister has promised to turn the entire state open-defecation free (ODF) by October next year, a full year ahead of the national deadline. The state is working to turn as many as 30 of its 75 districts to ODF by the end of 2017 — a big promise as only one district, Shamli, has so far achieved the mark.
Uttar Pradesh’s promise has raised confidence at the Centre as it has been grappling with a slow progress of the programme also in other key states such as Bihar and Odisha. “150 districts have turned open-defecation free so far out of the 680-odd in the entire country, while five states have gone ODF,” the secretary at the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Parameswaran Iyer, told ET. “We aim to now hit 300 ODF districts and 10 ODF states by the end of 2017. It is likely we will achieve this.”
Sikkim, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana are the states that have already declared themselves ODF. The number of districts that have achieved the mark has increased to 150 from just six about a year ago.
The Prime Minister’s home state, Gujarat, is expected to join the ranks by October 2 this year. The western state stands at nearly 99% in meeting its toilet construction target and only half-a-dozen districts of Gujarat remain to turn ODF. Other states that the Centre hopes will turn ODF by the end of the year are West Bengal (it has so far achieved 89% of the target), Arunachal Pradesh (83%), Meghalaya (86%) and Chhattisgarh (86%).
The Swachh Bharat programme has always been aimed at “quality of process” and “behavioural change”, and has not been a “numbers game”, Iyer said.
A new focus of the programme is on promoting ‘twin leach pit’ toilets, instead of the conventional ones with a septic tank to store the waste. The cost of twin leach pit toilet is low at Rs 15,000-20,000 and the country’s terrain is favourable in most parts for such toilets. “It is also environment-friendly and has the ‘wealth to waste concept’ with waste turning to compost. It is being promoted in a big way now,” Iyer said. The Centre has been roping in celebrities like Akshay Kumar and Anushka Sharma to promote sanitation and use of toilets. Work done by Tamil Nadu and Telangana in solid waste management is being cited for replication to other states. Meanwhile, the Quality Council of India has been roped in to study whether people are using the toilets built under the programme. The council is conducting a survey covering nearly 1 lakh households and, as per initial reports, usage has been found to be quite high, officials said.
THE BIHAR PUZZLE
After Uttar Pradesh, the Centre’s focus now is on Nitish Kumar’s Bihar and making it perform better. Interestingly, sanitation is one of the ‘Saat Nischay’ (seven promises) of the Nitish Kumar government. According to officials, the problem is big in these two states as 38% of the country’s open defecation happens there. Bihar’s ODF coverage is still just 31%, up marginally from 22% on October 2, 2014, when the programme was launched. It is a shade behind Jammu & Kashmir. None of Bihar’s districts has turned ODF yet and only 6% of its villages are ODF.
Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha is also under focus though it has shown good progress, from just 12% toilet coverage in 2014 to 42% currently. But no district in Odisha has turned ODF yet. The government wants to change the status of these states quickly.
Nothing is impossible if the political resolve exists, a senior official in Uttar Pradesh said, adding: “UP will go from 47% toilet coverage and just 8% ODF villages to total ODF in 15 months flat. Other states can also easily do that.”