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India is at the cusp of transforming rural India into model villages: Secretary, DWS

“All of us working in this sector clearly understand that there are no full stops to these efforts, but it is an ongoing process,” the senior bureaucrat said
India is at the cusp of transforming rural India into model villages: Secretary, DWS
India is at the cusp of transforming rural India into model villages: Secretary, DWS (Representational image: Shutterstock)

In order to achieve the objectives of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen (SBM-G), it is imperative to have tailor-made solutions targeting the local villages and districts as the ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy will not work, Vini Mahajan, Secretary, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India today said in New Delhi.

“We need to understand that as India is a huge country, the issues are diverse. The solutions have to be tailored not only to the local geography and geology but also have to take into account the culture, practices and habits. Therefore, the solutions must be unique and scalable and should be adopted by other villages which are in a similar situation,” she added. In this regard, the Lighthouse initiative will play an important role, she emphasised.

Addressing the launch of the ‘Lighthouse’ workshop, organised by the FICCI-India Sanitation Coalition (ISC), Mahajan emphasised that India is standing at the cusp of transformative change with a huge opportunity for all of us to transform rural India into model villages. “We are already working in this direction, and we believe in it for a very good reason,” she added.

The secretary further stated that India had been working on making the country open defecation free along with other sanitation-related issues for decades. “All of us working in this sector clearly understand that there are no full stops to these efforts, but it is an ongoing process,” she said.

She added that the government had been working for around 2 years on SBM-G Phase II, which has the target of sustaining the ODF status and ensuring that arrangements are in place for solid and liquid waste management in all the villages of the country.  The project, she added is backed by adequate funds, knowledge, and the right set of partners. “It is the gram panchayats, block panchayats and the zila panchayats who have to take the lead in not just understanding and planning for it but also to assist in creating the required assets which are economically viable and technologically feasible,” said Mahajan.

The government, she said, has made available adequate funds through SBM-G and tied grants for water and sanitation projects. It is significant that more than 95,000 villages have declared themselves as ODF Plus. “It is now time to ensure that the efforts are grounded on a proper understanding of the situation and making it happen quickly,” she added.

Urging corporates to come forward to assist the sector, Mahajan highlighted that there are immense opportunities for the private sector. “We are looking at quick deliverables and with very ambitious timelines.  We are not looking at corporates for funding the assets, but we are seeking their energy, time, and commitment. With these, we can bring about transformative change,” she added.

Speaking on the importance of local administration in the drive, Sunil Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India said, so far, we have been working with the departmental framework including the centre, the states and the districts. This needs to change so that a collector at the district level, is not looked upon as a one-stop solution. “We have now laid the foundation for a strong local government unit to make our villages clean and green,” he added.

Kumar further stated that the Government in collaboration with India Sanitation Coalition and the corporate sector was taking up initiatives to make 75 lighthouse blocks, and all of these would require various strategies and models. He reiterated that people are ready to pay for the services if they are assured of getting good services delivered to them, even in rural areas. “We must have service level benchmarks and the new assets must run as per the service level standards. The consumers should also be aware of these service level standards,” he added.

Kumar stated that we must raise the awareness level of not just the departmental functionaries and panchayats, but also of the end-users. If there is complete clarity on these, then we will find that the issue of sustainability will be addressed to a large extent.

He said that the government had adopted nine themes and all the panchayats in India should work around these themes which would lead to poverty-free and healthy villages; child-friendly villages; water-sufficient villages; clean and green villages. “Based on these themes, in accordance with the SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals), the gram panchayats need to adopt two or three of these for priority action in the first two years,” added Kumar.

Highlighting the role of the private sector in ODF, Arun Baroka, Special Secretary, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation said, “Private sector had played a critical role in making India ODF and it is incumbent upon them to support the ODF Plus Mission. The ODF Plus mission is a reflection of the Government of India’s commitment to improve the quality of life of rural people and of its working paradigm – Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Prayas.”

Lighthouse projects have the main purpose of providing direction so that one travels in the right direction, uses the right approaches and the goal is achieved. They are intended to demonstrate responsive and cutting-edge technology, community ownership, management and maintenance and a paradigm for cost-sharing and co-financing.

The hallmark of lighthouse projects will be the value for money, the return on investment and the pragmatic management arrangements hitherto used by the private sector. Lighthouse projects will be a true reflection of the management acumen and capability of the private sector. They will be used as Action Labs where PRIs, sanitation workers, officers can go for immersion and get a better understanding of management approaches, technical options, financing models, implementation and maintenance models.

“We believe in scale; we believe in speed, and we are committed to the sustainability of investments and benefits. We would want the private sector to imbibe these values as they partner with us on this very important initiative,” Baroka said.

Speaking at the occasion, Naina Lal Kidwai, Chair, India Sanitation Coalition, said that Swachh Bharat Mission had saved millions of lives and made a lasting impact on health, environment, household income and savings, inclusiveness for senior citizens and the differently abled, and safety and dignity for women. “The current priority of the mission is to sustain ODF behaviours and ensure that people continue to use and maintain their toilets,” she added.

She further mentioned that, in their experience, collaborations of government, grassroot organisations and corporates have led to sustainable and highly successful outcomes in water and sanitation and they need to be replicated across the country.

Natasha Patel, CEO of India Sanitation Coalition, delivering the welcome address said that it was the first time that so many corporates and the government are coming together to provide support for sustainable water and sanitation.

Best practice models practised in water and sanitation across rural India were presented by states and corporates.

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The Changing Face of Rural India