The backbone of the Swachh Bharat Mission’s success that revolves around changing the mindset of people to use toilet struggles to get the desired results reveals a National Consultation on Sustainable Rural Sanitation organised last week in the Capital by the Centre for Science and Environment CSE.

The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has over the past two years invested considerably both politically and financially on Swachh Bharat Mission. While large-scale campaigns are essential to drive behavioural change it is data that will connect the issue with health impacts and lead to impact on the ground. This emerged as one of the key takeaways from the National Consultation.

The primary reason for such a struggle is the lack of credible on-ground data and the absence of institutionalised tracking mechanism the basics of measuring the impacts of proper sanitation or the adverse effects that the lack of sanitation could cause.

Such a lack of data hinders the issue in leading the impact on the ground; extending to it is the absence of mechanism for tracking water-borne diseases that would have helped in knowing the progress of the sanitation programme.nbsp;

quot;Our experience and our work in air pollution bears out that change happens when we make a connection to people’s health. And the issue needs to be handled differently for rural and urban areas. While in the urban milieu toilets have to be linked with disposal and treatment systems in rural areas the priorities should be to address the issue in the context of poverty behavioural change by linking it with health water availability toilet design and waste disposalquot; pointed out Sunita Narain director general CSE.

Besides the mission diverts from its primary aim of constructing 1.04 nbsp;crore toilets in households 2.5 lakh community toilets and 2.6 lakh public toilets. On the other hand an analysis by CSE’s Down to Earth magazine shows that around 82.3 million toilets are yet to be constructed across the nation.

Describing the initiative as quot;just another failed government schemequot; the National Consultation according to a press communique issued by CSE quot;brought together sanitation champions failed states technical expertsconsultants government officials non-profits and donorsquot;.

Such a change-in-people’s-mindset the data suggest takes time in adapting into the society. quot;It took 30-40 years for people in the US to accept seat belts. In India we are trying to compress the time frame in the context of sanitation. The challenge here is how does one scale up while maintaining quality and sustain the momentum after triggering such behavioural changequot; said Parameswaran Iyer secretary Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation.

Nevertheless states like Haryana and Kerala excelled in their respective sanitation programmes and Sikkim even achieved complete sanitation coverage nbsp;within the given time frame. The green body insists quot;there is no ‘one size fits all’ solutionquot; as states like Jharkhand Bihar and Odisha have failed miserably in the Swachh Bharat Mission.nbsp;

District collector of South Sikkim Rajkumar Yadav said quot;We followed a strategy of putting two different types of pressure on people Rs one positive and the other negative. Positive pressure was put through campaigns and social messaging across sections of society. Negative pressure was applied by restricting and denying government benefits to those who haven’t constructed toilets or haven’t given up open defecation. This has helped create an overall positive impact.quot;

The recovery from such a failure requires not a one-dimensional accountability but needs a range of solutions considering different factors such as varied geographies socio-political setting technological solutions behaviour change scientific data gathering and policy interventions among others.

Narain also presented quot;a crucial first stepquot; towards such data gathering especially in understanding sanitation in the rural context. quot;CSE has started the process of drawing out shit flow diagrams to understand the flow of faecal matter. We are also setting up India’s first faecal sludge laboratory to test technologies for their effectiveness. Rural sanitation is more complex due to dimensions of poverty and is much more extensive and inhuman especially in the context of gender. World’s wicked problems are about gender Rs whether cooking fuels toilets or clean waterquot; she added.