‘Clean India’ needs sustained efforts to truly succeed, says WaterAid

1 Oct 2015

As the Indian government gears up to celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of the ambitious Swachh Bharat (‘Clean India’) Mission, WaterAid India analyses its performance over the last year on what has worked and what needs to be improved to make India open defecation free by 2019.

It is one year to the day since the Prime Minister launched the ‘Clean India’ Mission, whose primary focus is to make India open defecation free by the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth in 2019.

Neeraj Jain, Chief Executive of WaterAid India said:

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure in the next four years that millions of Indians can have and more importantly use something that most of the world takes for granted, a toilet. The Swachh Bharat (‘Clean India’) Mission, like no other sanitation programme in India before it, has the highest political commitment driving it. But a lot needs to be done still to make India truly open defecation free. The need of the hour is an effective, resourced and financed system that can drive and deliver the campaign on the ground, where it matters the most.”

Compared to the earlier government sanitation programmes, the most significant departures of Clean India include:

  1. Pushing the implementation onto the states with clear targets and an ambitious timeline. States have the flexibility to design the programme and monitoring systems
  2. The amount allocated for behaviour change has been reduced despite the fact that more toilets are being built
  3. A well thought out scheme of work that for the first time included post-construction or sustainability
  4. Political willingness displayed right at the highest level
  5. Increased involvement of elected representatives in water and sanitation issues.

3.15 million households were reported to have been covered in the past six months from April to September 2015. If the same pace continues, 6.3 million homes will have received a toilet by the end of 2015, an 8 percent rise from last year.

At the onset of the campaign in October 2014, India required around 110 million toilets to be built to ensure each household has one. This excludes school, community, and health centre toilets. To achieve the goal of each household with a toilet by 2019, around 61,000 toilets need to be constructed every day, more than three times the current pace of construction.

Though the total budget allocated to the campaign initially in this year’s Union budget has increased, it is still insufficient to complete the enormous task at hand. The government currently gives an incentive of £120 per toilet for every eligible household. That means the incentive alone will take up £2.8 billion a year. This also does not cover the human resource and other costs. Due to this funding gap, the government is encouraging resource mobilisation from other sources. A Clean India Fund has been set up at the Ministry of Finance for corporates interested in contributing to sanitation. A proposed tax relief of 1% on some items is also expected to raise some additional funds.

The other critical aspect is human resources. A project this size is being run on the skimpiest of human resources. The ministry responsible for the campaign, the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, has just a handful of secretaries, supporting officials and consultants. Similarly, each state has only 3-5 state level consultants and engineers while each district has 1-3 people and each block has 1-2. The present system cannot fully utilise the funds needed nor deliver the kind of throughput needed to drive the programme in top gear.

The third issue is low priority given to sanitation in decision making from the district to the village level, where it actually matters. Despite all the sound and fury at the Union and even state levels, sanitation remains of peripheral interest in most of the 670-odd districts of the country. While we have seen a handful of district collectors taking up the task of making their districts free from open defecation, they are still rare exceptions. More leadership at the district level needs to be galvanized.

Poor sanitation is a significant reason for India’s constant dismal showing on the human development indicators. It is also off-putting for tourists and industry as its shows India in a poor light, a land flowing with excreta and disease. To fix this, district authorities must be enthused, resourced and provided the technical options to execute Clean India. They need materials and simple locally relevant solutions that do not compound the problem in the long run. They need easy interpersonal communication pointers, methods and messages. A national campaign making the right noises can help drive public awareness but the real action needs to happen on the ground.

To ensure that Clean India delivers on its ambitious but much needed promise, WaterAid India is calling on the government at all levels from the Panchayat to the Centre to:

  • continue to push collective behaviour change to ensure open-defecation free communities and villages and not just concentrate on toilets construction
  • creatively use IEC (information, education, communication) materials for dispelling myths around notions of purity and pollution like twin pit is unsafe, open defecation is healthy etc.
  • continue to activate and empower a dedicated cadre of frontline workers to promote hygiene, ensure usage and reduce slippages
  • continued community-led decentralised planning that includes solid and liquid waste management to reduce water contamination
  • ensure WASH in healthcare facilities, with adequate planning, funding and monitoring
  • view sanitation as a fundamental human right situated in the broader horizon of other rights e.g., to food, education, livelihoods and health
  • create more champions especially from administrators who, if well briefed and trained, can quickly push forward the sanitation programme based on experiences from several states and districts
  • hold ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) and PRIs (Panchayati Raj Institutions) accountable through suitable institutional and cultural shifts especially by separating monitoring from planning and implementation
  • strengthen the MIS (Management Information System) to include sustainability measures and undertake annual national level random sample surveys for third party verification that ensures accuracy of coverage and usage
  • undertake inclusive planning from the view of most marginalised i.e. Dalits and tribal groups
  • activate all the mandated bodies from the bottom to the top like village water sanitation committees, district water sanitation committees and state water sanitation committees to sustain the drive.


For more information please contact: Pragya Gupta at [email protected] / +91 81302 60865

Notes to editors

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation. WaterAid began working in India in 1986 and has its focus on the poorer states in the country to better target India's most vulnerable communities. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidIndia on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

  • Around 77 million people in India still lack access to improved water sources
  • Around 560 million people in India still defecate in the open
  • Over 186,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in India.