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Collective Action Needed For Zero-Incident Sanitation

V. Srinivas Chary, professor and centre director of the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), a top institution for India’s public policy and capacity development, throws light on the challenges in the sanitation sector in India. Excerpts:

Collective Action Needed For Zero-Incident Sanitation
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What is the root cause behind the death of sanitation workers in the country?

The sanitation ecosystem in India faces many challenges that affect the overall state of sanitation and the safety and well-being of sanitation workers. The complexity of the situation renders it challenging to attribute a singular root cause for the death of sanitation workers in the country. Multiple factors contribute to these continuing incidents, including failure to consider the desludging operation of septic tanks as a public service, weak implementation of policy and regulations, lack of focused interventions to professionalise sanitation operations and inadequate technological innovations, inadequate training and PPE usage, data deficits and insufficient compensation in morbidity and mortality cases. The weak accountability of the service seekers, especially citizens and private establishments, and service providers (private operators) are underpinning reasons for the deaths of sanitation workers. What is imperative is a comprehensive approach to address these issues effectively.

How will ASCI and Reckitt overcome the challenges?

The collaborative partnership between Reckitt and the ASCI represents a significant step toward addressing the pressing challenges in sanitation in India. We believe collective action is the need of the hour to envision to ensure zero-incident sanitation operations in the country, with a comprehensive approach addressing policy, capacity building and training of sanitation workers and stakeholders, and knowledge dissemination and advocacy. Here is how this partnership aims to make a positive impact:

  • The National Ministry: One key partnership component involves extending technical assistance to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. This support will play a vital role in strengthening the policy ecosystem, operationalising the zero-incident strategy, and enhancing the capacities of government bodies at all levels. By providing technical expertise and support, ASCI will contribute to a more effective and coordinated approach to sanitation operations.
  • Leveraging Reckitt’s Harpic World Toilet College Network: Reckitt’s Harpic World Toilet College network across different states will be leveraged and expanded to introduce various capacity-building interventions. This effort will ensure sanitation workers have the knowledge and skills to carry out their tasks safely and efficiently. HWTC will professionalise sanitation operations and provide a life of dignity to the sanitation professionals. These initiatives focus on building the capacities of state and city-level agencies and engaging stakeholders in the sanitation ecosystem.

Knowledge Dissemination and Advocacy: The partnership will utilise ASCI’s WASH POST, a monthly newsletter, to disseminate knowledge, share best practices, and advocate for safe and scientific sanitation operations to ensure zero-incident operations.

The ASCI-Reckitt partnership adopts a 360-degree approach to ensure incident-free sanitation operations, making it a pivotal moment in this journey

How will ASCI and Reckitt be able to achieve zero-incident Swachh India?

With the announcement by the finance minister, highlighting the transition from manholes to machine holes and the Supreme Court’s order directing Central and state governments to eradicate manual scavenging and hazardous sanitation operations, the time has never been more suitable for us to channel our efforts towards achieving zero-incident sanitation operations. The ASCI-Reckitt partnership adopts a 360-degree approach to ensure incident-free sanitation operations, making it a pivotal moment in this journey. This approach encompasses policy reforms, handholding support in implementation and building capacities of the stakeholders, advocacy and awareness promotion across all the stakeholders towards zero-incident India.

While various stakeholders have made significant strides in advancing sanitation practices in the past, the partnership introduces a distinctive opportunity to drive changes at the policy level through support at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Simultaneously, it facilitates policy implementation and extends support to the essential stakeholders via the Harpic World Toilet College (HWTC) network. The collaboration prioritises knowledge sharing and advocacy, equipping states and urban local bodies with the information required for a seamless transition towards mechanisation.

In essence, a well-coordinated and deliberate collective effort ensures that we tackle the prevailing challenges comprehensively and pave the way for a safer and more dignified sanitation ecosystem.

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What are the other related initiatives?

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has been unwavering in its commitment to enhancing the safety and welfare of sanitation workers through initiatives such as the Safai Mitra Suraksha Challenge, Safai Mitra Surakshit Shehr, and NAMASTE programmes. These efforts are geared towards mechanising sanitation services, advocating for using personal protective equipment (PPE) and fostering skill development within the workforce.

How will you strengthen the HWTC network (HWTC 2.0)?

As a technical knowledge partner, ASCI will support Reckitt in transforming the HWTCs into centres of excellence to promote zero-incident India. ASCI has rendered support in revising the curriculum to effectively engage sanitation workers by adding the pedagogy methodologies, aligning incentives and providing information to access various welfare schemes of the governments. ASCI will guide the HWTCs to liaise and establish linkages with state and local governments to ensure workers’ safety and dignity. Further, through the WASH Innovation Hub, ASCI will connect innovators and other private players to promote sanitation-based innovations, mechanisation, livelihoods and enterprises.

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