From missing market incentives to misaligned incentives What is choking India’s rural sanitation progress?

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Re: From missing market incentives to misaligned incentives What is choking India’s rural sanitation progress?

Hi Aprajita,

The choke points PSI has found are all valid. Sometimes they occur in isolation, sometimes together. The impact is different in both cases but is highly context specific. I'll try to comment individually below.
Incremental increases in SBMG allocations. This year's budget allotted substantially more to SBMG than the previous years' budgets. The Ministry also tried to rationalise disbursements so states and districts could plan their programmes better. They were also asked for high priority districts that were targetted for making ODF last year, followed by more this year. The planning process till 2016-17 was to incrementally increase the number of toilets to be made in a district without a clear goal in mind, such as becoming ODF by a definite date. That seems to have changed somewhat to achieve ODF by a particular date. Planning is not commensurate though in terms of number of toilets and the funds needed. This still remains incremental rather than transformative. Another issue is SBMG funds on the ground have remained stuck to the Rs 12000 subsidy for more than three years. The feedback is this is not enough to make a usable toilet, to which the riposte at all levels is this is a subsidy and not the cost of a toilet, meant to reward those who make toilets. More than the amount, the concern is with the mode of payment. This happens in 1-2 installments with the second one at completion. Instead, to ensure usage the second installment should be paid six months after completion on verification of usage by all family members regularly. There are also concerns over how it is paid as some states have made the community (or ward) the unit of ODF before the subsidy is released to anybody. Planning to become ODF by a realistic, non-political deadline in a way that recognizes the time needed to effect behaviour change would address some of these problems.

Supply chains. This may be fragmented in some parts of India but in many places I have not found this to be a problem. The more proactive district governments have worked around this by negotiating in bulk with suppliers and ensuring they have stockpiles of material at the start of the year. The other critical gap has been in shortage of trained masons who know how to make twin leach pit toilets instead of only septic tanks. I have found responses to this have been knee jerk, such as getting masons from neighbouring districts. Their skills are doubtful even though they go through the mandatory 3 or 5 training. Here I would like to say these masons need training to make septic tanks, not subterranean chambers. The tanks I have seen would not meet norms for regular septic tanks since the lack baffle walls and the inlet pipes are not properly located. Their size has less to do with the effluent quantity and more with the perception that they should never fill up.

Missing incentives for market behaviour. I am assuming this means sanitation is not seen as a business venture. This seems to come from the standpoint that the government must provide all benefits for all. Rather than taking ownership of SBM, panchayats are happy to be passive implementers. District governments are complicit in this by taking the onus of planning and implementation. Targets and timelines are determined at the district level and communicated to panchayats. In a few rare cases sarpanchs come forward to take the lead but are completely dependent on district and block officials for executing the work. They are in effect glorified BCC agents who work in the time and space between trained motivators and the subsidy pay-outs. Some of the smarter sarpanchs have taken it on as a business even though SBM has discouraged contractor-led construction. I think the issue is how to balance sanitation markets with individual action where people make their own toilets but there is enough to encourage local sanitation entrepreneurs.

The last point. I think this means SBMG should create an enabling environment. The problem with this is insufficient and improper use of IEC funds. There is too much emphasis on mass media advertising and not enough on using this money for inter personal communication or other grassroots activities. To create and sustain demand more of the latter is needed especially as there are no permanent sanitation staff at the grassroots unlike in health or education. One solution could be to pay village cleaners from IEC funds and have them speak about sanitation constantly everyday when they are work, reach out to households to make and use toilets, and focus on SLWM. If there is demand, the market will follow. I am not sure the state should get into creating supply chains as it is inefficient and susceptible to pulls and pressures, as well as rent-seeking. This is best left to entrepreneurs and the creators of demand.

To be a strategic steward, SBMG would need to reinvent itself as a framework for action rather than a subsidy-led programme. The funds alloted for toilet construction should be directed towards creating demand and ensuring compliance or use of toilets. They can be used judiciously to support the really poor to make toilets. SBMG also needs to be more flexible in the type of toilets it prescribes since the 1 sq m 7" high toilets that are uniformly rolled out are not the most user-friendly. Including bathrooms or letting people choose the super- and sub-structures can help. However, in their haste to meet targets local administrations ignore the social aspects and instead, focus only on getting the numbers. A multi-year or long term view will also help to position SBMG as a steward.

Regards
Nitya
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