Sanitation policy in India has historically focused on the hardware aspect – providing subsidies to build latrines. But as we know, many of the latrines constructed remain unused. Of course the quality of construction of many of these toilets is poor. But, on the whole what the difference between construction and usage has shown us is that it isn’t just a supply problem, nor is it just an inability to pay. Many people don’t use latrines because they don’t want to.
The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), and even its precursor the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), nominally addresses this lack of demand through the Nirmal Gram Puruskar (NGP) – a group incentive to reach open-defecation free (ODF) status – and Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) activities. So, the policy has taken a four-pronged direction:
- individual subsidies,
- infrastructure resources for construction,
- group incentives (through the Nirmal Gram Puruskar),
- and demand-creation strategies.
Under the TSC, the NGP was awarded to a number of villages, some of which actually achieved ODF. However, IEC has not been implemented very well under either of the programs. The NBA allocates 15 percent of its budget towards IEC, one-third of which is for state level activities and two-thirds for districts. That means that something on the order of Rs. 60 lakh per district (on average) is budgeted for activities geared towards inciting demand. This is enough to fund around 6,000 village visits in the year. However, none of these allocated funds for the current year have been spent as of the end of July. And, even historically, IEC funds have not been fully utilized. But what would happen if these funds were spent appropriately (and by that I mean that funds allocated to street plays are actually spent on street plays on sanitation and latrine use)? Would an investment in demand-creation strategies, on top of everything else that the NBA does, increase latrine usage? Should these four elements go together, or does any one of them reduce the effectiveness of any others?
There is an argument that subsidies undermine the process of a communities taking ownership and action on their own. And in fact, in many of the places where demand-based strategies have been tried on a larger scale, the subsidy part of the policy has been greatly down-played. So, we don’t really know a whole lot about what would happen if the NBA was implemented as it was written, if all four strategies were pursued at once.
We certainly need to explore demand-based strategies more because supply approaches and subsidies have not seemed to work. But we should think about and explore what combination of interventions works best. Maybe in the end all four strategies lead to the best result, but perhaps not.