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Total Sanitation Campaign: Skin in the Game


Referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running, renowned investor Warren Buffett coined the term “Skin in the game”. The idea is not altogether a new one and restricted exclusively to the Stock market. More than two decades ago, the visionary BJP Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat wished to ensure the participation of the community in planning and executing social welfare schemes. Later this idea came to be known as ‘Antodaya’ and was implemented successfully in Rajasthan to some extent, ameliorating the condition of the poor and downtrodden.

The BJP Government led by Vajpayee launched the ambitious programme of Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 1999 aiming to eradicating the practice of defecation in the open. Currently, more than 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to toilets, one billion people practice open defecation and 600 million or 67 per cent in India openly defecate. Open defecation lies at the root of many development challenges, as poor sanitation and lack of access to toilets impact public health, education, and the environment. The TSC was preceded by the Central Rural Sanitation Programme, started in 1986 which failed in the wake of lackluster approach of the Union Government.

The UPA-II rechristened it as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) in 2012. It is supposed to be a Community-led total sanitation, a demand-driven and people-centered sanitation program.  Its main goal is to eradicate the practice of open defection by 2017.  So far, only Sikkim and Kerala have succeeded in eradication the problem of defecation in the open. Himachal is likely to achieve it by March next year.

Jairam Ramesh, the enthusiastic minister in UPA-II minister for drinking water supply and sanitation between July 2011 and October 2012 ruefully admitted about two years ago, “I do not think that we can achieve this target. We have several big states like UP, Bihar, Orissa and MP where it seems impossible for them to be open-defecation free by 2022. These states may take 15-20 years.”

Earlier, replying to a question coupled with supplementaries on the floor of the Rajya Sabha in Aug 2012 he said, “In last 10 years, toilets have been built (across the country)…But they are being used for storing food grain…they have been turned into storage godowns and they have been locked. Earlier, Funds were being misappropriated in this programme.

“The figures provided by states showed 60 percent people do not defecate in the open any more, while the census pegs it at around 30 percent. Money has been taken but toilets have not been built. There is a lot of ‘hera-pheri’, if I can use that term.”

Even our neighbour Bangladesh, a poor country, has the envious record of having 93 per cent of the population having access to toilets.

The Indian Railways, carrying over 20 million passengers daily, is unarguably the world’s largest open toilet system. New bio-toilets developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation are now to be installed in all new rail coaches. The retrofitting of biotoilets in all the approximately 50,000 rail coaches in use must get completed in no more than five years.

Contrary to claims, manual scavenging is still a shameful blot on our society with an estimated 2.6 million dry latrines still in use. Our holy rivers, most notably the Ganges and the Yamuna, have become gigantic sewers even as action plans for cleaning them up proceed apace.

Sulabh International, a NGO, alone has built and runs over a million toilets, mainly in urban India. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has challenged the world’s scientific and technological community to develop low-cost toilets for India. Yet, considering the stupendous task we confront, we appear to be moving forward at glacial speed.

The priorities of the Modi Government too include the Total Sanitation Campaign (TCS). But taking the clues from its slow progress since 1986, the government must ensure the community participation in the right earnest, not merely on papers. An experiment of successful community participation in Bunga, a sleepy hamlet in the foothills of Shivalik range of Himalayas in Haryana, though not related to the sanitation drive, can be emulated in this area.

The life style of about 500 farming families has witnessed socio-economic changes with the help of treatment of the area on integrated watershed basis. The integrated watershed management has been adopted at several places in the country to contain the deterioration of the natural resources. The project in this Haryana village cost about Rs. 29 lakh but the noteworthy development is that the State government or any of its agency do not operate it. The operation has been entrusted to the Hill Resource Management Society, manned by the villagers themselves.

All households of the village are the members of the society that looks after the protection of the catchment area from the unlawful cutting of the forest trees and grazing. The society manages the supply and sale of the irrigation water from the reservoir. The society also leases out the reservoir for pisciculture to the highest bidder. A social fund has been generated. With visible benefits, accruing from the project, the villagers themselves have started protecting the catchment area against grazing and illegal cutting of vegetation. It is called social fencing. Anyone found grazing the cattle in the catchment area is imposed a fine by the society while the standing grass of the catchment area is sold by the society to the highest bidder for a period of one year.

Here lies the utmost significance of the “Skin in the Game”. A model similar to this could be thought upon while aiming to make the total sanitation campaign a success.

Anil Maheshwari

Anil is a senior journalist and a published author. He's published 6 books including “Aligarh Muslim University: Perfect Past and Precarious Present”
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