Union Secretary of the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Parameswaran Iyer spoke to Rajya Sabha TV’s Neelu Vyas and discussed on sanitation and clean drinking water. Here are some excerpts from Iyer’s interview on RSTV’s To The Point.
Q: You have seen sanitation programs across many countries during your tenure in the World Bank, is India on the right curve?
A: Yes there is no doubt about. Prime Minister has put us on an unstoppable trajectory with Swachh Bharat. Sanitation is the top priority. It will be a game changer, what PM has done, he launched Swachh Bharat in 2014, brought it on a national agenda, its Jan Andolan, it all about peoples program.
Q: There is still a lot of cynicism about Swachh Bharat despite PM being the motivator in chief?
A: There some sections of the society which has a habit of seeing the glass half empty. It is a huge program there will be some aberrations here and there. Media has played a positive role. Urban area changes have been noticed tremendously. We are doing extraordinary worth. There have been school kids, who have contributed to school kids, mobilization through NCC. Communities are trying in a large way to mobilise themselves. Round level mobilisation in rural parts is huge and has gone unnoticed. Ordinary villagers have understood the meaning of open defecation free (ODF).
Q: Earlier also you have had programs like Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in the 80 Areas, what is qualitatively different now?
A: Biggest difference is that for the first time it’s a flagship program. Huge flip to political commitment. The focus is on behavioural change. It is the largest behavioural change program. Earlier programs focused on achieving now we focus on sustaining, verification, we give incentives. The concept of ODF has come for the first time as national agenda; it’s a big policy shift. The focus is on solid and liquid waste management.
Q: Is behavioural change towards water and access?
A: Yes, they are closely related. There is a policy decision that all villages which are ODF will get a piped water supply. We are focussing on steep slope water pans in villages. It will require just a litre and half water. Piped water is desirable but not essential.
Q: What about caste factor when you talk about the behavioural change?
A: We are confident that communities support. Communities accept responsibilities, caste barriers break down. Trained motivators trigger behavioural change. Twin pit technology is the safest technology. When one pit fills up, divert the excreta to the second one. First one dries up and it becomes dried up compost.
Q: Can technological interventions overcome social beliefs?
A: It is happening big time in rural areas. Some problems are there but change is there to see. Many villages have become odf. This is the biggest evidence
Q: One of the main objectives of Swachh Bharat has been to remove manual scavenging. Do we have figures of the number of people involved manual scavenging?
A: At the govt level it is social justice ministry which takes care of this. Whenever manual scavenging takes place ministry of urban development comes into action as it’s an urban phenomenon. Our aim is to convert insanitary toilets into sanitary toilets.
Q: There are reports of how entire villages in Rajasthan did not build toilets but the matter was hushed up to secure the odf tag?
A: There might be isolated incidents but verification is robust. It starts with Gram Panchayat to block level. We have quality council of India which found that usage of toilets has gone up to 90 percent. So thing is being done.
Q: Have you come across incidents when village after attaining ODF status has slipped back?
A: Slipped back was associated with the earlier programs. Our focus is on sustaining odf with the campaign. We encourage the people to do this. Verification is robust. 12000 rupees given to the people building toilet is just an incentive. This is not the cost of the toilets. 12, 000 in normal for twin pits toilets is almost sufficient. It’s not a sarkari toilet foisted on the people. People are free to add their money.
Q: Many villages I travelled across where toilets were used as storehouses?
A: It all boils down to behavioural change. There will be isolated incidents but sweeping changes are seen.
Q: Are you confident of meeting the deadline by 2019?
A: I am grateful to PM to repose the confidence in me. We are on a good trajectory. Swachhata Hi Seva fortnight has been successful. It generated a momentum which will push you forward.
Q: What is the next target after all villages are declared ODF?
A: Our focus will be on the liquid and solid waste management. Challenge is to sustain the odf. We need to focus on odf plus which is the management of waste in rural and urban areas. .Rural parts waste management is a challenge. Rural parts need simple solutions. You can have soak pits. There are good models already there. We need a different approach.
Q: What are the incentives for the people working hard for Swachh Bharat?
A: Biggest incentive is the knowledge about cleanliness. Household saves 50000 rupees if it has a clear-cut sanitation policy. Keep your village clean, keep your house clean.
Q: There are many challenges when it comes to drinking water out of 176 million rural households only 27 million have access to piped water, this is below the halfway mark. How will the govt meet the target?
A: It is a long way to go. Challenges are quite complex, it’s not only about infrastructure but environmental technical aspects have to handle. For example, Telangana is planning every household will be provided a piped water supply. Idea is to make it competitive within the states. The focus will be on outcomes and functionality of systems.
Q: Execution of drinking water projects has been very tardy?
A: We have taken several steps. Make implementation more efficient. Last seven-eight months central funds to be utilised for specific projects. Directly linked to central projects, they can be used for other projects. Once 75 percent in used they have to produce a certificate
Q: Public health engineering departments are short staffed states like Bihar and Rajasthan do not have anyone below the block level?
A: We are willing to improve the technical capacity. Can water be managed at the lowest level is the big question. Gram Panchayat levels take on the management roles. People have to be willing to pay for good devices. If cost recovery is there things will automatically improve.
Q: What about improving the quality of water and water stress?
A: Last seen months we have national water quality submission which focuses on removing fluoride and arsenic. This program is underwater mission programs. Groundwater has to be managed well. Water conservation measures have to implement well. We are trying to converge it with programs like MNREGA