Revolutionizing Rural Sanitation: India’s Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen

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India’s sanitation landscape is undergoing a transformative change, with the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) Grameen Phase II marking a remarkable achievement: 5 lakh+ villages have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) Plus. This milestone symbolizes the nation’s commitment to creating a clean and healthy rural environment and highlights the power of community-driven initiatives. As on date, 16 States and Union Territories have achieved 100% ODF Plus Status, of which 4 have achieved ODF Plus Model Status.

Launched on October 2, 2014, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, SBM aimed to eliminate open defecation across India by 2019. The first phase of this ambitious mission was a success, resulting in the construction of over 100 million Individual Household Toilets (IHHLs) and transforming 6 lakh villages into ODF villages. This accomplishment was a collective effort, with contributions from various sectors of society, including bureaucracy, public representatives, corporations, NGOs, and citizens. 

The key to the success of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) Grameen Phase I was an effective communication strategy that included mass awareness campaigns, behaviour change communication, and the formation of local committees to accelerate adoption of healthy hygiene practices, ensuring clean and healthy villages.  The messaging from the Prime Minister, coupled with support from State and District administrations and endorsements from celebrities, significantly boosted the mission’s reach and impact. Studies by UNICEF, WHO, and other organizations have highlighted the positive impact of SBM. Improvements in women’s safety, convenience, and dignity,  underscore the mission’s success.

SBM Grameen Phase II extended beyond toilet construction, focusing on transforming villages into clean, healthy spaces. This phase emphasized the importance of maintaining toilets, managing waste, and responsibly disposing of greywater. The  changed attitudes and behaviours of rural communities, adopting new sanitation practices and collaborating with various stakeholders for waste management, marked a significant cultural shift.

Complementing the sanitation efforts, the Jal Jeevan Mission played a crucial role in ensuring sustained toilet usage by providing water supply to all households. The formation of Village Water Sanitation Committees institutionalized community participation, managing sanitation services and assets effectively. These committees, including self-help groups, have been instrumental in operationalizing and maintaining sanitation facilities.

The SBM Grameen Phase II campaigns, like the Sujalam Campaign, focused on specific aspects of sanitation, such as greywater management. These initiatives led to the construction of 5.1 million soak pits, showcasing the commitment to comprehensive sanitation solutions.

The participation of rural communities was a driving force behind the success of SBM Grameen Phase II. Recognizing them as key stakeholders, the mission employed community-driven approaches, empowering individuals to take ownership of their sanitation facilities. The involvement of government agencies, PSUs, and rural WASH partners was crucial in realizing the mission’s goals.

The achievement of over 5 lakh ODF Plus villages has led to improved quality of life, reduced disease risks, and enhanced dignity and well-being in rural communities. This milestone in India’s sanitation journey is more than a statistic; it represents a deep-rooted change impacting millions. It’s a testament to the collective determination and resilience of rural communities in achieving a ‘Sampoorna Swachh Bharat’ or a Completely Clean India. The mission’s meticulous planning and concerted efforts have been pivotal in realizing the Prime Minister’s vision of a ‘Swachh Bharat’.

As SBM Grameen moves forward, the focus on community ownership and management of sanitation infrastructure remains key to sustaining these practices. The mission’s role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and contributing to India’s economic growth is significant, highlighting its comprehensive and transformative impact. By addressing water body pollution and improving water security, SBM Grameen is not only making India’s villages cleaner and healthier but also positioning them as potential economic centres, contributing to the broader goal of India becoming a USD 5 trillion economy.

By: Dr. Arumugam Kalimuthu, Executive Director, WASH Institute, and Member of NFSSM Alliance