National Consultation on sustainable rural sanitation on October 06, 2016
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) held a national consultation on sustainable rural sanitation at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on October 06, 2016. The meeting brought together the sanitation champions, health and technical experts, consultants, government officials, non-profits and donors. Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary in the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation (MDWS) was the chief guest of the meeting. The meeting was presided over by Director General of CSE, Sunita Narain. The two major issues that were discussed in the meeting were behavioural change and data availability in the field of rural sanitation.
The meeting started off with a presentation by Narain who spoke on the connection of water and sanitation. Narain explained that the government should emphasise not only on building toilets but also on safe disposal and reuse of the waste. According to her women in this society face the maximum problems, be it because of cooking fuels, toilets or clean water. Narain opined that rural situation is much more complex than the urban; she mentioned that there is a need to do much more in rural sanitation than only fixing the toilets. She added that there is a need to know where we are going wrong and why through such consultation.
The secretary DWS said that the Prime Minister has been very proactive in bringing sanitation in the national agenda. Unlike the previous programmes of sanitation, like Central Rural Sanitation Programme, Total Sanitation Programme or Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the new programme Swachh Bharat Mission focuses on behavioural change. This programme is not at all focusing on the numbers of toilets built. The secretary said that this is the first time the ministry is counting on open defecation free status of the villages and the districts. Iyer said that triggering the community for behavioural change is the challenge which the government is facing while moving towards a clean status. MDWS is counting the number of villages and districts which are becoming open defecation free every day but this is a self declared report, the monitoring is done by a third party added Iyer. Recently there has been rating of the districts on cleanliness which has been done by Quality Control in India - the indicators like garbage and stagnant water outside the house were used as indicators of cleanliness apart from toilet construction and usage added Iyer. The secretary explained that there are lot of interventions in states of Haryana and Kerala on toilet technologies and solid liquid waste management. On the topic of whether subsidy should be given or not for construction of toilet there was a debate where the secretary clearly emphasized that incentive is very important and how that can be used depend entirely on the states as there is lot of flexibility given to the states by the centre . On this note Kamal Kar of CLTS Foundation and Deepak Sanan, Former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh expressed a completely different view. They feel that communities work more seriously on construction and usage of toilets if subsidies or incentives are not provided. According to them subsidy should be denied to families who can afford toilets and only unity in communities and peer pressure can bring the behavioural change. Another opinion that came out of the meeting is that instead of subsidy loan should be given to the communities for construction of the toilets.
The District Magistrates of Kurukshetra, Sumedha Kataria said that there should constant pressure on the communities to sustain open defecation free state as Kurukshetra slipped back from a clean state. The District Magistrate of Uday Chaudhuri feels that literacy and access to urban areas have brought behavioural change in the district of Sindhudurg, Maharashtra. Bangladesh representative Anowarul Haq shared that his country has become open defecation free due to triggering of the communities and also due to partnership of the non-profits and communities in this sector. Rajkumar Yadav, the District Magistrate of South Sikkim feels that the behavioural change was possible in his district as the state announced disincentives for not constructing toilets. The participants of the meeting agreed that there is still a need to upscale the behavioural change. The need of the hour was to get the behavioural change translated into the policy. The participants opined that there is a need to use the subsidy in a much planned way and there was also a need to sustain the success of open defecation free status.
Apart from the behavioural change debate another major issue that came up in the meeting was that of data gaps. The health experts from World Health Organisation and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health (AIIHPH), Kolkata agreed that data on diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases are absent and hence it is difficult to establish a link between health and sanitation. Madhumita Dobe of IIPH said that Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) is working in silo and hence the data on health are never documented. Sanan explained that states should take a lead to monitor the data. The health experts also agreed that better reporting of states on the health data will surely get the sanitation right.
Narian concluded that there is surely a need to understand what is working. A regular interaction of the stakeholders is also required to get a better informed policy on sustainable rural sanitation. Two other major issues in this sector are technology options and waste disposal which will be discussed in the coming meetings.