Financing Swachh Bharat

Nitya Jacob | Updated on: Apr 10, 2015

BL11_THINK1_MAIN | Photo Credit: M_A_SRIRAM;M_A_SRIRAM - M_A_SRIRAM

It’s a huge exercise in collective cleanliness which needs massive funding and human resources. Cosmetics won’t work

At first glance, the government has not put its money where its mouth is. Just ₹2,625 crore have been provided for the Swachh Bharat Mission in the Budget. This is against ₹4,620 crore in 2014-15 and ₹3,500 crore the year before. The drop is puzzling till one looks at the Budget provisions for Swachh Bharat.

The Budget has an ‘enabling provision’ that empowers the Centre to levy a Swachh Bharat cess on all or certain taxable services at a maximum rate of 2 per cent. The proceeds from this will go to Swachh Bharat initiatives. This will be effective from a date to be notified. It is as yet unclear how much the cess will yield a year. The amount gleaned through the education cess of 2 per cent was ₹33,818 crore in 2014-15.

The total budget for SBM (rural) is ₹133,000 crore over five years. This is ₹26,600 crore a year. Assuming the Swachh Bharat cess is levied on the same range of, say, education cess, ₹33, 818 crore will be available each year to the government. For both SBM urban and rural, India needs ₹39,200 crore a year. A big advantage of the cess is as these schemes will be funded through taxes, dependence on foreign aid and the fickle corporate social responsibility route will reduce.

Additionally, there is the Swachh Bharat Kosh to tap CSR and non-resident resources. It is unclear if the cess will flow into this Kosh to be allotted to the State under their demands for grants. To date, the Kosh has disbursed funds worth ₹56.69 crore but it is not clear how much money has come into the Kosh. The Budget gave total exemption from tax to donations to the Kosh. However, in the past several months the amount pledged for Swachh Bharat is a measly ₹1,200 crore; it is not certain if the money has actually flowed into the Kosh.

We need more

There is, therefore, no shortage of money for SBM. The worrying aspect is emphasis on numbers. The Budget states 50 lakh toilets will be made in 2015-16. In 2013-14, a little over 49 lakh toilets were made. In the first nine months of 2014-15, only about 25 lakh were made.

The 50 lakh is well below the asking rate for meeting the target of completely saturating the country with toilets by 2019. To do this, 11.12 crore toilets need to be made a year. In the remaining four years, this means 2.6 crore toilets a year. That is four times the Budget figure. This also means a massive increase in the funds moving through the system that is clearly ill-equipped to deal with the additional volumes.

An analysis of the sanitation service system shows poor utilisation. In 2014-15, ₹1,453 crore out of an outlay of ₹2,850 crore were used. The year before was better with ₹2,250 crore being used of an outlay of ₹2,300 crore. Going back further in 2010-11, only ₹1,074 crore was used of ₹1,580 crore.

Create awareness

The other worry with the numbers game is the danger of creating poor quality toilets that nobody uses. Since the 1950s, this has been the bane of India’s sanitation programmes. The point was brought to light in the 2011 Census that showed about 30 per cent toilets did not exist, were defunct or had simply sunk back into the ground. Unless there is emphasis on use, this is going to be repeated.

SBM allots a measly 5 per cent of the money for ensuring hygiene behaviour change. Attitudes need to change for both making people understand the need for, and ask, for a toilet. It is also critical for ensuring people use the toilet after it’s made.

The government has assumed a plethora of agencies including bilaterals, the UN and international donors will somehow pool their resources and get the people to demand and use toilets. The issue is, unless the government funds this adequately, the sum total of money from all other sources will be insufficient at the national level for adequate change in attitudes.

The argument for cutting the information education and communication budget from 15 per cent earlier was actual funds utilisation was around 8 per cent and the size of the pie has increased.

Both are fallacious arguments. If the problem is bigger, more money needs to be allotted to change attitudes and perceptions. Various estimates put a desirable figure for behaviour change at a quarter of the total budget.

This money will be needed to pay for the human resources to take SBM to conclusion. It will be needed for training masons and plumbers; to develop material and distribute information to the public. If a mass media campaign is needed, it will consume several hundred crores a year which is not available under the current budget or even the proposed Swacch Bharat cess.

Thus, while the gross amounts of money may become available, there is no clarity on how it will be managed and who will do so. Distribution of funds across heads is also problematic and needs to be changed on priority. States tend to spend on big-ticket items rather than ‘low priority’ sanitation. The PM’s push may change this.

Some parallels

Will this flood of funds translate to better implementation? The government’s record in education is mixed. The primary enrolment rates are near-universal but falls to 67 per cent afterwards. Surveys have repeatedly pointed to poor learning levels in students.

The hardware exists on the ground but teachers are missing. The tragedy of education is the push for building more and putting little into content. Lures such as the mid-day meal scheme only go so far.

Swachh Bharat is cast in the same mould. Toilets will be built as that is what its implementers (perpetrators?) understand when it comes to meeting numbers.

Even though the programme aims at improving the quality of rural life, accompaniments such as hygiene behaviour change, water and solid-liquid waste management have not figured in the crazy targets put out by the government. Merely ensuring money will not be enough. Human resources for behaviour change and skills are equally important.

A rough estimate shows about 6.4 lakh people will be needed from panchayat to state levels to run this programme. The maximum strength of 600,000 are at the village level (one person per village) followed by about 33,000 at the block level, 3,265 at the district and 175 at the state level.

Even this is conservative. Permanent staff may not be needed at the village but will be required in blocks, districts and States. There is no plan at the moment beyond stating the obvious need to recruit from self-help groups, Nehru Yuva Kendras and the like. These people need skills, clear budgets and an action plan that goes beyond numbers.

The writer is head of policy for WaterAid. The views are personal

Published on April 10, 2015
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