India: Nurturing the Rural Sanitation Revolution

Almost all the world’s population lacks proper sanitation. Inadequate sanitation is a major contributing factor to the cause of diseases in developing countries such as India. Gandhi once said “Sanitation is more important than political independence. Making every village clean and healthy is central to all development efforts.”

India’s first nationwide programme to combat the lack of rural sanitation was launched in 1986. The Central Rural Sanitation Programme’s (CRSP) objective was to improve the quality of life for Indian rural communities. The programme was highly subsidized and prominence was given to the construction of toilets. However, rural villagers were unaware of the potential health and economic benefits of better sanitation and hygiene practices. They had a misconception of the project and the notion that they would have to pay high costs if they had a household toilet. Open defecation seemed like a more convenient alternative to them.

The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) project, launched in 1999, has taken a different approach to addressing the issue of inadequate sanitation in India. The TSC promotes the ending of open defecation, the safe disposal of human excreta, hygiene practices, solid and liquid waste management and rural environmental sanitation. It is a low subsidy regime with greater community involvement where local government, institutions, co-operatives, women groups, self-help groups and non governmental organisations play a vital role.

Local government plays an important role in promoting greater community participation. Local governments in various states have adopted incentives to ensure environmental cleanliness in their respective areas. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra implemented the Clean Village Campaign awards where they promoted competition between local governments to achieve cleaner villages.

Following the success of such an incentive the Government of India (GOI) introduced the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (Clean Village Award) in 2003. Villages were only eligible to enter the competition if they had installed toilets and were free from open defecation, schools had proper sanitation and the environment was maintained properly. Prices for the villages was based on the population and ranged from US$1,000 to US$ 11, 000.

At the first awards ceremony held in 2005, 38 Nirmal Gram Puraskar awards were given. This number increased to 760 in 2006 and a dramatic increase in 2007, were 4429 awards were given.

Based on the figures of the awards it is clear that India is taking strides in addressing its sanitation problems. Clean, green and healthy villages are a sure sign of India’s progress.