How Swachh Bharat can become a bigger success
Nationally, 13 per cent of the target has been achieved one year into the initiative.
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PM Modi's Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) launched on October 2, 2014 with the dramatic photo - which was shared and retweeted online, and published across media channels - of the prime minister sweeping a Delhi street with a long-handled broom.
For its audience, the visual suggested a departure from the usual way of governance, and a new willingness among elected officials to address real and unfashionable problems.
Over July and August, FourthLion carried out a study across three states - Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan - and interviewed more than 300 state and local officials, consultants and beneficiaries to understand the performance of the SBM since its launch last year. We focused on the SBM (Grameen) IHHL (Individual Household Latrine) part of the mission. With an estimated 60 crore Indians or 53 per cent of Indian households defecating in the open, the absence of toilets is a key contributor to ill health and malnutrition .
The mission has an all-India target covering 11.11 crore households without toilets, according to the SBM(G) 2012 baseline survey. Nationally, 13 per cent of the target has been achieved one year into the initiative. In the three states we studied, the percentage of target achieved is 27 per cent in Karnataka, 23 per cent in Rajasthan and 9.2 per cent in Andhra Pradesh.
What is working in SBM(G), and what isn't? On examining the guidelines from the central government, it's clear that the Centre has made a concerted effort to ensure accountability and effectiveness in the SBM(G), a mission-mode programme. The most significant of the reforms that the Centre introduced were:
1) Technology in an ambitious role: The Centre improved on the IMIS (Integrated Management Information System) to track SBM(G) applications and approvals, a system that since the SBM(G) launched, has become mandatory for all states. Fund transfers from Centre to state are now contingent on data that is entered by states into the IMIS and the uploading of photographs as evidence of construction .
In addition, the Centre recommends that states build their own state-level systems that link to the IMIS, and that local state functionaries use an SBM(G) app to photograph and geo-tag beneficiary toilets. This would speed up approvals and fund transfers.
2) A role for communication and community engagement: SBM(G) has emphasised the importance of information, education and communication (IEC) along with community engagement in driving beneficiary demand. In Rajasthan, such communication and community efforts play an important role in driving demand. For example, Mahendra Singh Shekhawat, a teacher and district project coordinator for SBM(G), talked about the workshop he helped conduct for village residents in Bikaner, on the risks of open defecation and the benefits of toilet construction. "The information from the workshop created word of mouth across neighboring villages," he said, "it also created a cohort of village-level volunteers willing to work on the scheme." The net effect of these workshops, he observed, was "a competition between villages to be the first to achieve ODF (Open Defecation Free) status". In Mandya, Karnataka, a taluk resource group (TRG) has been created to enable IEC and IPC activities. The TRG group, based on interviews with the members, spend four-five days in each gram panchayat to cover all the villages. "We conduct door-to-door visits, street plays, and support beneficiaries in filling out the applications and collecting documents," one member said.
While these are important reforms, challenges remain in the execution of the SBM(G) IHHL. One of these is piecemeal implementation of best practices by states, depending on state capacities. For example, while Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have implemented state-level tech solutions, Rajasthan has not. The lack of state-level technology means that states like Rajasthan operate offline until they transfer information from paper to the central system. This limits accountability and easy monitoring of state-level SBM(G) implementation.
Secondly while states like Rajasthan have implemented community-led models like CLTS (community-led total sanitation), other states like Karnataka have had very limited community involvement, with the exception of local efforts like the Mandya TRG.
With the exception of Rajasthan, we observed that IEC/IPC efforts have also been largely ineffective in the states we studied, since local officials find IEC requirements cumbersome to complete alongside their existing work. Existing IEC field teams witnessed mainly focused on static, traditional channels like wall murals, with limited or no interaction with residents.
Such communication efforts however, are critical to behaviour change. For example, the field teams met Siddappa from Koppal, Karnataka, who knows of the scheme but is not convinced about the need to build a toilet for his home. He was unaware of the problems created by open defecation and the benefits of a toilet in the house.
Anecdotally, districts in Rajasthan have seen some success in IEC through the role of civil society organisations like Feedback Foundation, which conducts three-day workshops on SBM(G) across villages in Rajasthan's districts .
The biggest concerns for beneficiaries in the SBM(G) IHHL effort has been delays in access to funds. Andhra Pradesh has implemented a dual incentive process for beneficiaries, where beneficiaries get paid in two stages, while Karnataka and Rajasthan have implemented a single incentive system. The field teams met people like Kenchappa, a landless labourer in Mandya, Karnataka, who was eligible to get the SBM(G) incentive but had no upfront money to start construction and therefore didn't apply.
The other issue in fund flow has been of funds getting trapped at the state level. Based on interviews with state and local functionaries, fund movement from state to local governments is erratic. Local government functionaries in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh mentioned delays and gaps in fund transfers from the state, which have discouraged people in their districts from building toilets since they see beneficiaries not receiving their incentives. For instance a beneficiary called Phatima from Jagalur, Davangere borrowed Rs 8,000 to construct her toilet. "I have been awaiting payment from the government for over two months," she said. Similar cases were observed in the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh districts visited - four in ten beneficiaries interviewed reported not getting their incentives after construction.
Addressing fund flow and financial bottlenecks: Unpredictable funds emerged as the most persistent concern among beneficiaries during field visits. While movement of funds from state to local governments could be partly addressed by alerts and mechanisms built into the tech infrastructure, beneficiaries also need easier access to funds to begin toilet construction. This can be done through both dual incentive systems, with incentives paid in two stages, and through greater access to interest-free loans through local banks and PPP initiatives.
Affordable state tech solutions through sponsorships: States with smaller budget outlays like Rajasthan tend to balk at spending on smartphones and software. One potential route to tech adoption is through technology sponsorships through CSR funds. This could go a long way towards making these solutions financially feasible for states. Partnering with software companies to build the state SBM(G) app and systems, as Andhra Pradesh did with TCS, can also help build easy to use systems for government functionaries.
Why is tech infrastructure so important? Technology goes a long way into building a backbone of accountability into government programs. In Karnataka, the Panchatantra system and the app have together helped make the state among the top ranked in SBM(G) implementation. Requiring the existing tech systems to also have easier tracking, and alerts for approval delays and fund transfer delays will make the monitoring and auditing of such schemes simpler.
Enabling CLTS and other community-led models for better IEC: The operational guidelines for SBM(G) already recommend a strong role for CSOs in monitoring and auditing the mission. The work of CSOs like Arghyam in Davengere, Karnataka, and Feedback Foundation in Rajasthan, suggest that CSOs can take up an important role in driving these efforts. Partnering with these organizations for IEC could be critical in driving beneficiary demand.
According to beneficiaries, building household toilets made a difference to their sense of safety, especially when it came to using the toilet at night. They appreciated the comparable convenience and cleanliness of a household latrine. K Roopa, a beneficiary in Nendragunta, Andhra Pradesh, constructed a shared toilet for her own and her brother-in-law's family. The toilet has a wash basin and a water heater, which they included at their own expense. "It's not just about cleanliness. It's also a matter of prestige," Roopa said. "We want people to know that our village is as developed as any city."