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No Swachhata, Only Stink

The government’s ambitious, much-hyped Swachh Bharat Mission is already going down the flush. At least an internal assessment by the Urban Development Ministry reveals the same. As many as 14 states and Union territories have not yet started construction of toilets. This is the ground reality despite the fact that the Centre had released the first installment of funds as part of its share to these states to build toilets. The programme, which was launched with much fanfare on October 2, 2014, aims at making India open-defecation free by 2019. However, besides West Bengal and Bihar, other states that are yet to start building community and house toilets are Assam, Kerala, Jharkhand, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Daman and Diu, Dadra, Nagar Haveli, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Nagaland and Meghalaya. West Bengal was given Rs 21 crore out of the total grant of Rs 64 crore. The state has two BJP MPs and the Modi government has also inducted the younger MP Babul Supriyo from the state. Incidentally, he is Minister of State for Urban Development and for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation!

Bihar was sanctioned Rs 8.14 crore of the total grant of Rs 37 crore. The “failure” by these states has prompted Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu to direct ministry officials to find out the reason and pull up these states. To add to the “stench”, 10 states, including Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand among others are still to start processing solid waste. The swachh mission’s targets in urban areas include building of 1.04 crore individual household toilets, over five lakh community and public toilet seats and 100% door-to-door collection of solid waste.

Till date, 4.35 lakh toilets have been constructed in urban areas till July. Also 22,419 toilet seats were made available and the number of municipal wards reporting 100% door-to-door collection of municipal solid waste was also increasing. Delhi has reported waste generation of 8,590 tonnes daily and has processed 52% of the collected stuff. However, the target is 75% for March 2016. Meanwhile, we must also consider the fact that understaffed and financially hit urban and local bodies cannot be expected to solve decades-old problem through enthusiasm only.

Partnerships with civil society organisations can resolve issues. Engaging the private sector for recycling, reducing and reusing waste, along with local governments to facilitate and provide services, can take a project a long way. We must also guard against embracing the so-called best practice solutions. India is a diverse country and political games play a vital role in giving final shape to government policies. In most states where the BJP is not in power, the state government’s alleged apathy can also work against the government’s flagship programme. Though aimed at the benefit of the aam aadmi, when it comes to rajneeti, politicians of different hues will always try to pull the plug on such flagship programmes that can give credence to the BJP government at the Centre. Aggressive campaigns for the need to have toilets can also force these states to react and produce results. Politicians in India always lose steam midway and shift focus to newer programmes. The toilet project is of utmost importance and the Modi government must impose fines or censure the states which have not yet shown initiatives in this regard.

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