Swachh Bharat Abhiyan


In 2014, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was established with the goal of making India open defecation free (ODF) in five years. This helped the country get closer to SDG 6.2, which calls for everyone, especially women and girls, to have access to sufficient and equitable sanitation. By 2019, the effort had built over 100 million household toilets, benefiting 500 million people across 630,000 villages, thanks to methods such as public engagement. Other national campaigns are now emulating the Mission’s strategy, and it has affected policies in nations including Nigeria, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Since 2020, it has also set the ground for investing across the full cycle under SBM Phase II.


Scale, speed, stigmas, and long-term viability were all important factors. Everyone was involved and given a role to play in order to attain scale, from school kids to women masons, community volunteers to celebrity brand advocates, making it a ‘people’s movement’ or jan andolan. For expediency, all levels of government – including the Prime Minister – were held accountable for the outcomes within a timeframe that included a sunset clause. Stigmas were addressed by significant behaviour change campaigns, and long-term sustainability was achieved through institutional changes in policy and financial incentives, as well as rigorous monitoring. Finally, the baseline determined how many households, including all those living in poverty in 2013, required resources to begin work, ensuring that equity was built into the programme from the beginning.

Contribution to SDG Implementation

Throughout, SBM prioritised behaviour modification in every effort, instilling a sense of agency and responsibility in the community in order to achieve long-term ODF status. Highlighting positive deviance, role modelling by community leaders and volunteers, ensuring that women and children were given agency, and promoting awareness in last-mile communities all helped to ensure equitable coverage. This foundation is currently being built upon as part of SBM Phase II, which is leveraging existing practises to encourage more investment in the safe management of solid and liquid waste generated by sanitation systems.

Methodologies for implementation

SBM was funded jointly by the federal and state governments, resulting in local ownership of the outcomes, as well as support from important development partners. States were free to choose which method they wanted to utilise to decentralise financing farther down to the household level. It was also recognised that promoting key behaviour changes through building intention, role modelling, community-level peer monitoring and support, and regular exposure to media messaging was important to sustaining the uptake and use of toilets, so a portion of funding was set aside exclusively for social and behaviour change campaigns and information, education, and communication (IEC) materials. SBM also promoted sanitation access by calling it “everyone’s business.” Regardless of their fundamental mandate, all ministries produced annual work plans to streamline sanitation programming within their respective sectors. This ensured that toilets were built in sufficient numbers in schools and pre-school centres, healthcare facilities, government and private sector buildings, farms, and other public spaces; in schools, government standards ensured that there were enough toilets for both boys and girls, and that girls were given the privacy and materials they needed to practise safe menstrual hygiene. Finally, given the size of India’s rural population, the government trained over 600,000 community volunteers, known as swachhagraha, on the importance of clean sanitation, how to disseminate key messages to their communities on a daily basis and track progress using mobile devices, and how to organise campaigns involving community members and children from households.

Constraints and Factors

High-level stakeholders, including the Prime Minister, supported SBM. This allowed for more efficient public funding and the implementation of rigorous monitoring systems, as well as training for hundreds of thousands of implementers and community volunteers and advocacy campaigns headed by community role models such as religious leaders. It was classified as “everyone’s business,” with SBM receiving a special tax. State governments and district implementers were given leeway in how they wanted to implement the national programme at a local level, which alleviated constraints caused by various terrains and varying cultural needs.

Replicability and sustainability

SBM used variations of the community-led total sanitation (CLTS) strategy, as well as administrative and financial incentives, to encourage long-term behaviour change. It sparked a desire for toilets in remote areas by conducting community mapping and transect walks to determine how and where open defecation affects health outcomes. It also encouraged the use of cost-effective and long-term sanitation techniques while prohibiting the use of temporary constructions. The low-cost twin-pit toilet style enables families to use the second pit to turn filled pits into safe fertiliser, reducing their reliance on expensive faecal sludge treatment facilities. Finally, it used a cascade model to speed up implementation by establishing master trainer pools in each state and district, who then educated grassroot implementers who delivered essential messages to households, pre-schools, schools, and healthcare facilities. This method has proven to be beneficial in terms of scaling up while maintaining community buy-in.

Impact of COVID-19

The government’s capacity to adequately monitor for slippage and new holes in toilet coverage in far-flung areas of the country has been hampered by COVID-19. Due to school closures, school facilities have deteriorated and will require major upkeep once schools resume this year. Economic hardship has caused large-scale worker movement, which has radically changed existing labour pools in states. However, in 2020, the government initiated SBM Phase II, allocating cash to maintain ODF statuses and identify newly “left out” households. In addition, as part of Phase II, the government is investigating opportunities to promote the safe management of all waste. Finally, to regain momentum, a nationwide programme encouraging village cleanliness has been initiated.

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