Another Broom in the Hands of Modi

Tikender Singh Panwar

ON October 2, 2014, Modi held a broom in his hands on a televised and photo-shoot event in a courtyard of a police station in a dalit residential colony in central Delhi. A ‘clean India’, he remarked would be the best tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birthday in 2019. He had promised to transform sanitation and waste management in the country by that day. For the good everyone believed!

Once again the same hands of Modi held the broom; this time in a school in Noida on September 15, 2018 , unleashing a cleanliness campaign for a fortnight that would culminate on October 2. Just a year left for Gandhi’s 150th birthday. As in the past the dramatics were galore with media attention and Modi sweeping not the floor but the ground under the green bushes instead. People like Ratan Tata and Amitabh Bachchan appeared on video conference with Modi. While Tata mentioned about his contribution to the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)-one of the flagship programme of Modi, by spending Rs 100 crore, Amitabh Bachchan explained his mobilisation of a tractor to clear one of the beaches in Bombay.

All this looked incredible! What a support to the noble idea of a ‘noble man’-Mr Modi. Forgetting a hard fact that it is the common citizens of this country who have contributed the largest kitty for the SBM. The 0.5 percent cess on all taxable services has helped to raise a sizeable volume for the campaign.

The government has collected Rs 2,35,308 crore as a cess in the year 2016-17. This is the revenue collected from education, swachh bharat, krishi kalyan and other cesses. Nearly Rs 9851.4 crore was the SBM cess. Hence it is the people of India who have contributed for the campaign and the construction work under the SBM. The participation of the private sector in raising money for the SBM has not been good as figures reveal. This sector has been able to raise just Rs 246 crore through the corporate social responsibility.

The much tom-tommed campaign has three important areas of intervention: to build 12 crore (120 million) toilets in the country; solid and liquid waste management both in the urban and rural areas; sanitation awareness campaign.

It is estimated that the total cost of the campaign and the construction of toilets is Rs 1.96 lakh crore. Modi government does not have this money to spend. Hence Modi is relying more on euphoric gestures where the campaign for sanitation is just virtual, but far away from reality.

The severest indictment of the SBM and the management of solid waste in large cities came from none else than the Supreme Court (SC) of India. The SC reprimanded the lieutenant governor of Delhi and sarcastically said that the landfill sites in Delhi would soon surpass the height of Qutub Minar. These are the new symbols of our urban civilization where the solid waste collected from the cities is dumped and the heaps turn out into mountains. The Modi euphoria however overlooks it.

Having a look at the performance of the Modi government in the management of liquid waste all that can be said is that the situation has turned from bad to worse. According to the government report itself just 50 percent of the targeted toilets have been constructed with a usage of 80 percent. These include the ones constructed by the individuals themselves in the countryside. The challenge to construct 50 percent of the remaining toilets in just one year (October2, 2019) remains a long distant dream.

Not only the constructionof the toilets is important, but its design and the management of the treatment of the faecal sludge is more important.The toilets that have been constructed must also be linked to the plan of emptying their septic tanks.  Because if that is not done properly and scientifically then there is a havoc in the offing. There is hardly any plan of managing the faecal sludge.

The practice which is prevalent in the country is of emptying the septic tanks into the nearby nallahs which is far more dangerous than open defecation. It contaminates the adjoining water sources and affects them in a highly toxic concentrated form. In India the extent of surface water pollution is more than 80 percent and all this happens from the untreated discharge of faecal sludge into water sources.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) figures (2011) reveal the estimated sewage generation in class I cities and class II towns as 38, 255 million litres per day out of which only 11,788 MLD (31 percent) is being treated and the remaining 69 percent is disposed into water bodies without any treatment. The challenge of disposal of untreated sewage has in the present conjuncture further increased with the construction of new toilets but a non-commensurate increase in the management of faecal sludge. This has further deteriorated the situation. The level of treatment available in cities in terms of sewage being treated varies from 2.5 percent to 89 percent of its generation.

The GST was levied from July 2017 and all the cesses on education and SBM etc., came to an end. The cesses had contributed to the consolidated fund which was then used for the campaigns on swachhta, education etc. Though this was a very meagre source in comparison to the needs to achieve the aims of the SBM; still there was something available with the government to deliver. With the promulgation of GST and discontinuation of cesses the estimated loss of Rs 65000 crore would be there to pursue such schemes. Will it impact the SBM? Well it has already impacted the campaign. As mentioned above the swachhta cess had contributed to Rs 9851.41 crores. The government is ambiguous about the contributions to this drive. Though the government has made it mandatory for the CSRs to contribute 30 percent of it to the swachhta abhiyan, but this is very paltry keeping in view the overall contribution of the CSR.

The impact of GST on sanitary equipment’s is also felt severely by the people thus influencing the campaign in the negative. The initial 18 percent GST on soaps and toiletries compared to 12 percent in the past surely dissuades the people. The tax on sanitary napkins continued for long until it was withdrawn. One of the features of the SBM campaign was to instil behavioural change in people by promoting usage of soaps etc. A GST of 18 percent is not a right direction to follow.

A GST of 12 percent on the toilet equipment’s such as urinals, commodes and flushing cisterns translates the whole exercise of constructing the toilets costly thus influencing its construction in the poor neighbourhoodsand villages.

The sanitation is the work and job of the local bodies, still Modi embarks on the campaign to show how concerned he is about it. Whereas the fact remains that the innumerable plans drawn by the consultants for various cities called the city sanitation plans (CSPs) have been screaming for adequate investments to manage both their solid and liquid waste. Instead of empowering the local bodies with adequate financial assistance by way of decentralised tax collection the government forces them (local bodies) to knock at their (central government) doors through bulky detailed project reports (DPRs) which hardly get financed. On an average this business of preparing a DPR for a solid waste management plant or a sewage treatment plant takes several years and by the time the execution starts the demography and geography of the city changes. The population increases. Take for example the sewage plan of a small town Leh which was planned in 2010. Since then the population has doubled and the requirement has also changed considerably. Still the execution of the Leh sewage plan has not been completed. It eventually affects the performance of such a utility. This is invariably the case in every city.

What is required is not a centralised euphoric campaign as is exhorted by Modi, rather a more de-centralised work plan for the cities and the villages that caters to their demands. But for that there is lots of money which is required. And the resources for sanitation is not even 10 percent of the requirement. The better way of dealing with such a situation is to shed the responsibility of the ‘state’ and pass it on to the private players. We have witnessed how miserably they have failed in handling either the solid or the liquid waste in the cities.

In the given situation another way of making the people realise that a lot is happening, is by spending huge sums into the advertisement campaign. Till the year 2017 Modi had spent Rs 530 crore in publicity, offering huge money to some of his favourites in the media-both print and electronic.

The campaign has an unambiguous clarity about what is to be projected. The projection as evident has to be of a single man and his vision of transformation which however is completely divorced from reality.
The reality and the truth is what all of us know. Bitter!

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