Shri Birender Singh

   Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, & Drinking Water and Sanitation

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has spearheaded the Swachh Bharat Mission in rural India, after Hon’ble Prime Minister gave a call to the Nation to make India Swachh within five years by 2019. This entailed freedom from open defecation, and solid and liquid waste management. Since open defecation is closely linked to diarrhoeal deaths, morbidity, poor education, malnutrition and poverty, the main focus of the programme in the first year has been accelerating efforts towards eradicating it. Towards this end, since the launch of Swachh Bharat, nearly 80 lakh toilets have been constructed. What is at the crux of the matter is, however, that the focus of the programme is not toilet construction but on behaviour change and community involvement in Sanitation as the preferred approach. The States are free to choose their approach, given their socio-economic-cultural milieu.

Realising that the health benefits accrue only when the entire village becomes free from open defecation, the Ministry has focussed on achievement of open defecation free (ODF) villages, besides increase in coverage. The parameters of ODF have now been standardised and a uniform definition provided to the States. Process is on to now roll-out the mechanism for verification of ODF by the States. A framework is also being put in place to incentivise better performing States, so that focus is on outcomes and moving ahead on a fast track.

There is a major focus on capacity building, given the criticality of skills required for change in age-old habits and mind-set. District is identified as the key unit of implementation, and District Collectors are being trained so that they can give the leadership to the programme. Close to 206 Collectors from across India have already been trained, many of them are emerging as champions and strategizing to make their districts ODF within the next two-three years. States have also taken up capacity building in right earnest and workshops on community oriented approaches and attitudinal change have begun in many States.

Some extremely encouraging innovations and inspiring events are happening across rural India presently. In States such as Chhattisgarh and Punjab, there is focus on complete achievement of ODF communities, and not just increase in coverage. ODF has been made the basis of planning and monitoring in these States, and therefore, work is progressing at speed. Chhattisgarh has planned 1889 Gram Panchayats to be ODF by March 2016, and Punjab has initiated “Mission 1000” – i.e. to make 1000 GPs ODF by October 2, 2015. In the state of Madhya Pradesh initiatives like gifting toilets to the sisters on “Raksha Bandhan” have been taken and the programme has been named as “Operation Mal Youdh”. In Rajasthan, for the panchayat elections, toilets in the house has been made a compulsory qualification for contesting the elections. In Assam and Odisha each village achieving the ODF status is seeing celebrations as in a festival. In west Bengal district Nadia has been declared as the first district achieving the ODF status. The collector of Nadia has been awarded in the UN forum for his contribution.

The States are also utilizing flexibility provided by the programme to achieve programme objectives faster. For example, some States/districts are choosing to give incentive directly to communities, rather than individuals, in those villages where community processes have been adopted. States are also bringing out innovative policies at their end to boost the programme.

 The ministry has been leveraging its efforts to disseminate clear messages using 360 degree Media Campaign and interactive social media tools to provide a platform for sharing innovative practices across the country.

The ministry is also mandated to provide safe and potable drinking water to all the rural population. Though we have already achieved the millennium development goal, the issues related with the quality of drinking water in the rural areas still remain a concern. In order to achieve the targets, the Ministry has formulated guidelines to provide minimum 8 to 10 liters per capaita per day potable water through suitable community water purification plants in water quality affected habitations. In the naxal affected and difficult areas, 20,000 habitations across the country are being provided with solar power based dual pumping piped water supply in collaboration with national clean energy fund.

In the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, a separate World Bank assisted project costing Rs. 6000 cr. has been launched. The project is estimated to benefit about 78 lakh rural populations in these states with provision of piped water supply.

Innovative technology in the water and sanitation sectors always plays an important role and the Ministry has organised three exhibitions cum workshop in Delhi called “Indovation”. In each of the exhibitions, innovators from all parts of India presented and showcased their technologies, which are cheap, affordable and sustainable. Some very innovative technologies like using jute to prepare the super structure of toilet, nano technology for water purification, water less urinals, etc were exhibited. Ministry has constituted a high level committee under the chairmanship of eminent Professor Dr. R.A Mashelkar, which examines and endorses the technologies for acceptance by the states for implementation. A link in the website has been created, wherein any innovator can submit his or her technology for placement before the high level committee for examination. Now the challenge is to popularise these shortlisted technologies at the grass roots level through organizing Indovation at State and Regional levels.

 During the flood in Jammu and Kashmir this year, this Ministry came forward and on a short notice arranged airlifting of mobile water treatment plants and water bottles for the flood victims. Massive awareness drive about the water and sanitation issues and challenges has been a key to the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission and providing potable drinking water through national rural drinking programme. The ministry has  targeted in the recently held “Puri RathYatra” through a massive campaign, and the ongoing Kumbhmela in Nashik is also witnessing notable campaigning.

The next chapter in SBM will unfold with the “Citizens Movement” to take the mission forward as a befitting tribute to the “Father of Nation” on his 150th birth anniversary in 2019.

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