By Naina Lal Kidwai
Chair, India Sanitation Coalition
Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is easily one of the most talked-about development programmes of India in recent years. While it is widely acclaimed that Sanitation coverage in rural India went up from 39% on October 2, 2014, to 100% on October 2, 2019, with 10.3 crore toilets built and nearly 60 crore people changed their behaviour and stopped open defecation in a matter of five years, when one looks deeper into the sector of water and sanitation, there is a realization, that the impact of the Swachh Bharat Mission has been more wide-reaching saving millions of lives and making a lasting impact on health, environment, household income and savings, national income and savings, inclusiveness for senior citizens and the differently-abled, and safety and dignity for women.
Besides, based on the UNICEF’s assessment of the macroeconomic impact of SBM brought out in 2019, SBM led to the creation of 75.5 lakh full-time equivalent jobs between 2014 and 2019, primarily in rural India.
Interestingly, the achievements of the urban swachhta mission, while being laudable, struggled when it came to employment generation, lagging behind its rural counterpart. One of the primary reasons for that was that the sanitation infrastructure required to be built under the mission were way smaller, with the central allocation being just `14,623 crore of the total outlay (not expenditure) of the mission (`62,009 crore). With the minimum state share pegged at `4,874 crore, the balance funds (`42,535 crores) were to be generated through individual beneficiary contributions, PPP, and other sources.
Unfortunately, what followed the success of Swachh Bharat was the outbreak of the pandemic, leading to innumerable human deaths, extended lockdowns, and unprecedented job and income losses in India and globally.
There were of course several measures that the government announced and implemented to tackle the problem. One such measure was the launch of the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan in June 2020 by the Prime Minister’s Office, aimed at boosting livelihood opportunities in Rural India. It was a focused campaign of 125 days across 116 districts in six states to work in a mission mode to help migrant workers earn a livelihood opportunity besides helping to create durable infrastructure for a host of purposes. Public works worth `50,000 crore were carried out under the Abhiyaan, including over a hundred thousand community sanitary complexes that were constructed dovetailing resources from the Jal Shakti ministry to benefit rural households from the point of view of service provision for sanitation and employment.
Given the above, it seems imperative to address the issue of job creation in the urban context on an urgent footing.
MGNREGA provided enhancement of livelihood security, giving 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household. There existed multiple other schemes too to take care of the rural poor in an overall attempt by the government to kickstart the economy in covid times.
However, to create and sustain community-based livelihood opportunities for the urban poor, it is critical to integrate employment generation and skill building with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) by putting in place similar livelihood programs.
I support arguments to apply the principles of sustainable livelihood framework. We need to take a multidimensional approach by simultaneously focusing on financial-, physical-, and human capital. By doing so, we would ensure the following three things—support to local micro-enterprises, improved access to water supply, sanitation, and shelter: and skill training. Once these are achieved, reducing the vulnerabilities of the poor, and generating jobs becomes a natural consequence.
Does an urban national job guarantee scheme on the lines of MGNREGA fit the bill? I think it does, as a parliamentary standing committee also recommended to the Union government in August last year. Aligned with the above contention is a CEP COVID-19 analysis published in September 2020 that revealed that 70 percent of urban workers in India had no guarantee of a minimum number of days of work in the year. Of them, 70% would have liked to have a guarantee of 100 days of work, primarily to overcome the livelihood insecurity from Covid-19.
What I would recommend therefore is a central job guarantee scheme covering the urban poor to be supported through the Union Budget 2022-23.
Let us also have a quick assessment of the employability angle under SBM Urban 2.0, too. For the mission, the Union Budget 2021-22 was impressive with a total allocation of `1,41,678 crore over five years between 2021 to 2026. Besides committed public expenditure, the programme design also seems to offer opportunities for employment for the urban masses.
Finally, I am glad that the government has chosen to continue invest in these areas and on a long-term basis, showing no signs of an intent to pull out prematurely from their support and funding. The economy is steadily reviving and despite an upsurge in Omicron cases in the current year, there is hope we will achieve strong GDP growth and revenue collections enabling us to continue to support successful programs like SBM.
(The author is chair, India Sanitation Coalition. Views are personal and not necessarily that of FinancialExpress.com)