To be rated the second among the worst places in sanitation is a distinction that India should want to do away with soon. More pressing is the need to prevent, as a WaterAid estimate shows, the death of 1.5 million children every year due to diarrhoea and the loss of 73 million work days due to water-borne diseases. The emphasis, for good reasons, has been more on providing clean water supply than on sanitation. The Planning Commission estimates that, as on March 2004, whi le about 91 per cent of the urban population had access to water supply, only 63 per cent had sewerage and sanitation facilities. The year 2012 is now set as the target for 100 per cent urban sanitation. It is in this context that the government has unveiled the National Urban Sanitation Policy. It seeks to promote community planned and managed toilets where there are constraints of space, safe disposal of waste and recycling of treated waste water, and managing of public sanitation facilities in all urban areas.
The policy envisages extension of sanitary facilities to the poor in listed as well as unlisted slums. However, in practice, the unlisted slums seldom got the benefit since they are seen as illegal settlements by local civic authorities. The document urges the States to make their own policies. But in the absence of financial incentives, the suggestion is unlikely to evoke an enthusiastic response. Anticipating a shortfall in state-funding, it understandably stresses pubic-private partnership to augment sanitation efforts. However, with the increasing emphasis on the cost-recovery approach to urban services, sanitation targets for the poor may become difficult to achieve. Unfortunately, not enough attention has been paid to exploring alternatives such as the “unbundling of the sanitation services” — an approach that divides the city into smaller divisions and facilitates development of self-contained sanitation infrastructure. This will ease the burden on the network and reduce the cost by 30 per cent, as estimated by the U.N. millennium taskforce. The national policy has good intentions, but much will depend on the initiatives taken at the State and the city level to concretise them.