Sanitation and Water Disposal

Sanitation and Water Disposal

  • The seriousness of the challenges associated with urban water supply and sanitation in India have been recognised in recent times.
  • After decades of neglect, the first national effort to invest in the urban water and sanitation sector commenced in the 1970s, but was accorded considerable priority in the subsequent two decades as a part of different national- and state level schemes, culminating most recently in the ‘Swacch Bharat Mission’.
  • As most of the recent reports and commentaries have highlighted, the problems of the urban water and sanitation sector in India are complex and shall need concerted efforts to sustain the policy momentum.


Why meeting the challenge of urban water and sanitation is important in order to meet desirable public health and environmental outcomes.

Imperatives for Public Health

  • There are severe public health consequences of inadequate urban water and sanitation. Globally, diarrhoeal diseases are the second leading cause for children under 5 (UNICEF, 2010), and 25 per cent of global diarrhoeal deaths occur in India (WHO, 2009).
  • Around 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths can be attributed to inadequate sanitation hygiene and water (UNICEF, 2010). Increasingly, it is been recognised that sanitation is a cause of malnourishment, leading to stunting and long-term cognitive diseases (Spears, 2013).
  • one in every 10 deaths in India is from causes related to inadequate sanitation and hygiene (WSP, 2010).
  • Lack of sanitation in India has led to economic losses for the country (6.4 % of India’s GDP) (WSP, 2010). This study also highlighted that urban households in the poorest quintile bear the highest per capita economic impact of inadequate sanitation—1.75 times the national average per capita losses and 60 per cent more than the urban average (WSP, 2010a).

Imperatives for Environmental Protection

  • The largest environmental concern, posed by the current urban water and sanitation systems in India, is pollution of water bodies.
  • ‘Organic matter and bacterial pollution of fecal origin’ remains the largest water pollution problem in India (CPCB, 2012).
  • Water quality, as measured by BOD levels, and the presence of Total Coliform and Fecal Coliform, has declined steadily over the period of 1995–2011 (CPCB, 2012).
  • The main cause of this pollution is the inability of large urban centres to adequate treat their wastewater, as will be examined in detail in later sections of the paper. Inadequate sanitation is also a cause for contamination of groundwater aquifers. Untreated sewage also remains the single biggest land-based source of pollution for coastal areas of India (CPCB).
  • Apart from pollution, the other critical concern faced by urban areas is its growing water demand, within the context of decreasing water availability. With 2.4 per cent of the world land area, India is home to about 17 per cent of the total world population but has only about 4 per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources (Ministry of Water Resources, 2012).
  • In a country like India which is densely and relatively uniformly populated, the growing water demand and the resultant search for newer sources of water is bound to come face-to-face with ecological limits.
  • In the case of India, while per capita renewable water resource availability in 1951 was 5,177 cubic meters (cu.m) per capita per year, this became 1,588 cu.m by 2010, placing the country well within the water-stressed category


  • A large section of Indian population lives in villages and is mainly engaged in agriculture. They belong to weaker section of the society.
  • There is a definite trend of rural population migrating to the urban areas due to lack of employment opportunities, low earnings, insufficient means of transport and insanitary living conditions.
  • The latter is mainly responsible to repel the educated youth from working in rural areas. One source of insanitary condition in rural areas is the drainage of waste water from bathing and cooking areas of dwellings over the kutcha roads and lanes having inadequate slopes.
  • The situation is further aggravated due to the movements of carts and animals which result in the creation of pot holes and ditches that gets filled up with dirty stagnant water.
  • The mosquitoes and flies find good breeding centres in these places and spread diseases. Some of the village roads are brick paved with drains for waste water disposal. But these have not served the required purpose due to improper slopes, insufficient maintenance and unpredictable flow of water. Rural dwellings having their own source of water supply like hand pumps discharge more water on the streets.
  • Furthermore, the agricultural waste and domestic refuse collect in drains obstructing the flow of water and ultimately, all these things appear on the streets.
  • Some of the village panchayats have suggested individual pits for collection of waste water and its disposal by intermittent sprinkling on large areas, either in the courtyard or on the streets.
  • The villagers adopt this practice for some time, but their enthusiasm dies with time. A few progressive farmers have access to the technical know-how and capacity to invest finance to make large sized soakage pits filled with brickbats (to dispose off water underground). These are frequently choked with ash and soil used by the villagers to clean their utensils. This requires cleaning of the pit and involves considerable expenditure. The high cost of construction and costly maintenance make it beyond the reach of the poor.
  • A detailed study of the problem, including the living habits of rural population, was conducted by the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee.
  • The urban type of underground drainage system was not found suitable because of the settlement of silt and ash in drains; insufficient quantity of water for self-cleaning of the drains; high maintenance and running cost.
  • The lack of interest in the maintenance of community services leads one to conclude that the proposed system should be such that it should make the individuals responsible to run their own waste water disposal system. At the same time, the system should be within the economic reach of a villager who can maintain it without outside help.

Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin)

  • Safe sanitation is an essential requirement for the well-being of every society. Though India has come a long way in improving its sanitation coverage status, it is still well short of desired levels.
  • In the rural context, Safe Sanitation comprises of the following components

Personal & Household Level

  1. Safe disposal of human excreta
  2. Personal hygiene
  3. Safe handling of drinking water
  4. Domestic sanitation & food hygiene


  1. Safe disposal of waste water
  2. Management of solid waste
  3. Clean environment (No littering)
  4. Management of Community Toilet Complex
  • The sanitation programme needs to take care of the above components.
  • To tackle the challenge, the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) was launched on 2nd October 2014, and is a community-led and people-oriented programme aimed at universalizing safe sanitation, by providing flexibility to states in the implementation of the programme.


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