October 2, 2018, marked the completion of the fourth year in the five-year project towards a promised clean India. According to a recent report, the Swachh Bharat Mission saw about 62,329 toilets getting built every day over the last four years. If this is true, India will soon become open-defecation free over the next 365 days.

Although, the finance ministry and the Economic Advisory Council, have declared the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) a tremendous success, the central government’s own Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has raised serious doubts on the transparency and elevation of SBM in at least two states. Also, the Accountability Initiative, which works to enhance accountability in governance, has been cautious and doubtful, too.

Let’s take a look at some important and comprehensive data on Swachh Bharat Mission that gives a clear picture.

The mission (SBM) consists of two arms: rural and urban India. Each arm has its own Management Information System (MIS). SBM-Gramin (SBM-G), or rural, after the launch in October 2014, took the lead and established itself as the role model. SBM-Urban (SBM-U), while on another strand, faced lower allocations and a smaller mandate, which consequently contributed to its slow start.

There was a huge difference in transparency too. While SBM-G provided overall expenditure and all facts in great detail, SBM-U gave in little administrative detail.

Disappearing data and toilets

  • The report claims that although less than 37% of India’s waste is processed, yet only 29% of solid waste management funds had been released to states by January 2018. Major waste generators like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh were being released <5% of their allocations.
  • The report claims that SBM-U had originally targeted construction of 10.4 million individual household latrines (IHHL). Now when the States reassessed toilet needs, in February 2017, they reduced the overall IHHL target by 36% to 6.64 million, across 23 states and union territories.
  • Recently, when the Gujarat government declared that the state has become open defecation-free (ODF), the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) dismissed the claim, saying “it does not appear to be correct”. The CAG report stated a survey conducted in 120 Gram Panchayats in eight districts found that nearly 30 per cent of the households had no access to toilets, either individual or public.

  • The research pointed out that after SBM cut urban toilet building target by 36% from 10.4m to 6.64m, states and territories slashed the number of toilets they claimed to have built. Soon after, 7 states/UTs vanished data on 208,781 household toilets, between November 2016 and November 2017.
  • One page in the Swachh Bharat information system reported that 51,734 wards had achieved 100% door-to-door waste collection till December 2017. However, another page mentioned this proportion was 67%.
  • Also, the SBM-U website, as of September 2018, reported no data on funds released for the current financial year.
  • Andhra Pradesh accounted for more than half of the toilets’ disappearances (131,530). There were notable differences in other states, too. Uttar Pradesh lost close to 37,000 toilets whereas Chandigarh accounted for almost 13,000 fewer toilets in a year.

Improper sewage-treatment plants in urban India

The sewage treatment plants in cities are not updated with time. As per reports, 56.4 per cent of urban households are connected to sewers. However, there are no effective measures to cater to the sludge that should be safely collected, treated and disposed off.

According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board, only 64 per cent (522 of 816) sewage-treatment plants (STP) work. This shows more than one-third of India’s STPs weren’t functioning.

Yes, building sewers and sewage-treatment plants are not a part of SBM-Urban. However, this is a part of the collective sanitation problem that has to be fixed. This issue is extremely crucial because of the SBM’s weakening data and transparency. Although, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) evaluations are important for accountability, there is a need for States to provide administrative data on a regular ongoing basis. Since the government has largely claimed the unparalleled success of SBM, it’s time there is more transparency showcased and proper implementation framework put in place.

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