Economy

Swachh Bharat: Liberal spending, but limited results

Seetharaman R | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on April 16, 2017

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Higher Central outlays and spending by States have not ended open defecation

Keeping clean is not just a costly affair but often frustrating, too.

The Centre is finding exactly this, with its well-intentioned drive to keep Bharat clean. The ‘Swachh Bharat Mission — Gramin’ is not just soaking up money, but its outcome indicators have also been disappointing.

According to the SBM-G website, some 3.8 crore household toilets — about 63 per cent of the mission target — have been built till date. But the continuing open defecation, and a high proportion of dysfunctional toilets remain causes for concern.

Consistent rise in funding

According to a recent Centre for Policy Research (CPR) report, the Government’s allocation for SBM-G increased three-and-half times, from ₹2,850 crore in 2014-15 to ₹10,500 crore in 2016-17. The budgeted allocation for 2017-18 is ₹13,948 crore, a 33 per cent jump over the previous year. Also, some of the States are progressively spending more, hoping to be compensated by the Centre once the project gets approved.

As on January 2017, for instance, expenses of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan have overshot the funds available by 628 per cent, 305 per cent and 119 per cent, respectively. In the case of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala and West Bengal, the expenses exceeded the available funds by 10-60 per cent.

Avani Kapur, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, says: “Given the political push for SBM and the focus on toilet-construction targets, there is an implicit understanding that resource constraint should not be a factor in not achieving targets. Besides, if the eligibility criteria is met, the States expect the Centre to reimburse the expenses.” Approval for funds spent increased from 58 per cent in 2014-15 to 97 per cent in 2015-16.

Despite a strong progress indicated by the SBM-G website, the continuing open defecation, which is one of the crucial output measures for the mission, is discouraging.

While all the villages in Kerala were declared open-defecation-free by 2015-16 end, most other States had not achieved even half their target by the end of 2016-17.

One reason could be the lower spend on Information, Education and Communication (IEC), which has been far below the recommended 8 per cent of the total expenses. The highest allocation for IEC was by Chhattisgarh (36 per cent) and Punjab (35 per cent), while for other States, it varied from zero (Jammu & Kashmir) to 22 per cent (Haryana).

The CPR report also indicates a significant number of dysfunctional toilets. Of the 88 lakh dysfunctional toilets identified in a baseline survey in 2012, 99 per cent continued to remain so as on January 2017. Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu account for the maximum — 19.3 per cent and 14.8 per cent, respectively — of all dysfunctional toilets.

A study on ‘Understanding open defecation in rural India’ by Indian Statistical Institute-Delhi, the University of Pennsylvania, and R.I.C.E., blames multiple factors such as the traditional practice not to have a latrine inside house, small soak-pits provided by the government, and the difficulty in emptying these pits for the continuing open defecation.

Hope ahead?

The poor outcome has been despite the Centre front-ending allocations. For instance, the first three quarters ending December 2016 saw the Centre releasing 75 per cent of the allocation to the States.

This is much better that in 2014-15 and 2015-16, when 48 per cent and 40 per cent of the allocated funds, respectively, were released in the last quarter.

But Pinaki Chakraborty, Professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, sounds a note of caution on this: “Front-ending funds release from the Centre helps States reduce cyclicality and better plan implementation. But since it is a conditional scheme, it is equally important to monitor the expenses periodically.”

Published on April 16, 2017
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