The tragedy of India’s water scarcity is that it could have been averted. Constant growing population, absence of adequate water legislation and poor management have led to significant shortages in rural and urban India. The subject of sanitation (mainly toilets) and hygiene is at the centre stage of the development effort and is receiving a huge thrust from the highest echelons of decision making in the country.
Corporate India, backed by the new CSR law could step in to contribute positively in this area. We spoke to Toolika Ojha who earlier worked with UK based WaterAid to understand how this could be done.
According to Toolika, the govt. response to water scarcity in rural areas is that of setting up of hand pumps or jet pumps. In urban areas the response is similar, in addition to the ubiquitous water tankers. Universalization of service rather than quality of service has been the mainstay in both rural and urban areas. With respect to hygiene and sanitation too, mere setting up of facilities is not important but a larger thrust is needed on behaviour change.
She says that private companies can supplement efforts in providing water hygiene and sanitation to all. Some of the possible ways could be:
1. Supporting the Municipal Corporation or the Civic agency in water provisioning in urban areas. This is an area where corporate partaking can help organize and streamline the service provision, as this sector currently has no. of unorganized private players (contractors, water tankers etc.) and the quality of drinking water supplied leaves a lot to be desired. Corporates could help build physical infrastructure or assist in metering/billing given the renewed focus on digitization of urban services, a core idea in smart cities of the future.
2. Big ticket initiatives like provisioning of piped water in rural areas. This involves corporates participating in setting up physical infrastructure in PPP mode along with the community, local self-government/panchayat as well as the Block Development Office (undertaking metering and billing as it requires sustained involvement).
3. Similarly, construction and maintenance of sanitation facilities like toilets which are grossly inadequate in slums, is being increasingly focused upon by the government, with preference being given to individual household (HH) toilets over community toilets, wherever possible. Corporates could help Civic Agency in designing eco-friendly low cost toilets, in addition to contributing to physical infrastructure. They may have to engage with local NGOs as well; as complex Issues like maintenance and behavior change, crucial to the success of such initiatives, require an agency with abiding interest like a community based organization.
4. Undertaking Hygiene campaigns , an example being the Hand washing campaign held in schools in Delhi, which was supported by a large MNC in collaboration with Ministry of Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation (GOI ). Education and sensitization campaigns being very visible and popular, especially if targeted towards children are effective tool in ushering desired change.
5. Corporates can help in Solid waste Management (SWM) in urban agglomerates; contributing to collection and segregation of solid waste with the aid of rag pickers. This sector also has many private players, largely unorganized. Development of Environment friendly landfills, or developing the land over landfills as a green zone shall hugely improve the quality of health and hygiene experienced by city dwellers.
The CSR initiatives if aligned or dovetailed with the core areas of the company can not only benefit the community but also the company, in a more concrete fashion. Contributing to burning issues that are currently being pursued by the state and its agencies, deepen the effort undertaken, besides adding to the brand value of the company.
Article coauthored with Utkarsh Majmudar and originally published in Economic Times.