Opinion: By Biswanath Sinha
Sustaining Monumental Sanitation Investment to Propel India towards Viksit Bharat: The Role of Innovation
Friday, April 12, 2024


In recent years, India has made significant strides in its quest for sustainable sanitation under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). After achieving 100% open defecation free (ODF) it has been dealing with second-generation sanitation issues like sustainable liquid waste management, solid waste management and sustaining other infrastructure. Amidst this progress, challenges persist, particularly in the management of faecal sludge management (FSM) and greywater water management. WaterAid, an international not-for-profit working in the space of WASH (water, hygiene, and sanitation) and Vivid Economics, a leading global strategic consultancy firm, have in a recent study indicated that basic sanitation services can make significant progress on eliminating preventable diarrhoea and helminths disease, averting 125 million and 300 million cases per year respectively. By comparison, safely managed sanitation services could avert 310 million cases of diarrhoeal disease and more than 600 million cases of helminths per year. Combined, safely managed sanitation could save more than US $2.6 trillion in health costs between 2021 and 2040. While this figure is at a global level, the corresponding financial benefit in the Indian context will be of immense value. Innovation has emerged as a crucial tool in addressing these challenges, offering empowering solutions that can enhance the sustainability of sanitation efforts across the nation and propel India towards the vision of becoming a US $5-trillion gross domestic product (GDP) economy and thereby moving towards Viksit Bharat (developed India).


The Need for Innovation

Traditional approaches to sanitation management often fall short of effectively tackling the complexities of FSM and greywater management. Rapid urbanisation, inadequate infrastructure, and limited resources exacerbate these challenges, posing threats to public health and environmental sustainability. Innovation is essential to overcoming these obstacles, driving progress towards inclusive and sustainable sanitation for all, and realising the vision of a Viksit Bharat.

Innovation in FSM and greywater treatment presents a promising pathway towards sustainable sanitation in India. Central to the success of innovative sanitation solutions is meaningful community engagement and operation & maintenance of the sanitation infrastructure. Empowering communities to actively participate in sanitation initiatives fosters ownership and sustainability. Involving local stakeholders in the design, implementation, and maintenance of FSM and greywater management systems ensures relevance, effectiveness, and long-term impact. By harnessing these innovations, communities can transform sanitation challenges into opportunities for environmental conservation and resource recovery for a safely managed sustainable sanitation solution.


Policy support for fostering innovation

Effective policy frameworks play a vital role in fostering innovation and scaling up successful sanitation interventions. Governments at all levels must prioritise policies that incentivise research and development in FSM and greywater management, promote collaboration between public and private sectors, and facilitate the adoption of innovative technologies. By creating an enabling environment for innovation, policymakers can accelerate progress towards sustainable sanitation goals.

Several initiatives across India exemplify the transformative potential of innovation in FSM and greywater management. From community-led FSM projects to decentralised greywater treatment systems in rural areas, these case studies demonstrate the tangible benefits of empowering solutions.

In the context of the SBM, the establishment of ODF Plus Model Villages has emerged as a significant strategy for advancing sustainable sanitation practices in India. These villages serve as notable examples of effective sanitation management, showcasing innovative solutions in both FSM and greywater management. Through the adoption of decentralised treatment systems, resource recovery techniques, and community-driven initiatives, these villages have demonstrated notable progress in ensuring access to safe and hygienic sanitation facilities for their residents. Furthermore, these villages play a crucial role as testing grounds for innovative technologies and practices contributing to ongoing efforts to improve sanitation nationwide. As India continues its pursuit of universal sanitation coverage, the empowerment of all the villages through innovative solutions remains integral to achieving sustainable sanitation outcomes across the country.  Some of the successful models worth mentioning are the Hybrid DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater Treatment Systems) model, Seechewal model, ECO STP for greywater management, modified Household Soak Pit with Grease Trap (Meghalaya), etc.

However, to realise this vision, we must ensure that all households sustain access to functional toilets and handwashing facilities, and the schools, anganwadi centres, and gram panchayat buildings are equipped with gender-segregated toilets and Handwashing facilities, and villages have effective solid and liquid waste management systems in place. While significant progress has been made, with many villages achieving the Model ODF Plus Village status, there are still approximately 4,19,000 villages awaiting transformation according to the SBM dashboard in the middle of March 2024. It is imperative that we maintain and accelerate the momentum to achieve our goal.

Strengthening the Sanitation Innovation Ecosystem

As per the Press Information Bureau (PIB), dated December 22, 2023, a substantial amount of Rs 2.49 lakh crore has been invested since the launch of the ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), India’s largest flagship programme on sanitation. Out of that, an estimated outlay of Rs. 1.40 lakh crore has been allocated to sustain the ODF status of villages and to extend solid and liquid waste management to all villages by 2024-25. SBM (Grameen) 2.0 is currently underway in collaboration with the states to further enhance sanitation initiatives.  Additionally, increased funding has been allocated to the local Panchayati Raj Institutions through the 15th Finance Commission tied grant to support sanitation and drinking water schemes.

In parallel, the Government of India launched Start Up India with the objective of bolstering the innovation ecosystem in the country. A recent assessment of its progress indicates that 1,23,890 new startups have been registered through the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). Ejalshakti, a platform developed by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, has approved 47 sanitation technologies under innovation to accelerate solutions. This indicates that there is abundant opportunity to further expand and accelerate progress in the innovation domain.

With continued dedication and collaboration, India is poised to achieve remarkable strides in sanitation and innovation, driving sustainable development and improving the quality of life for all citizens.



Innovation stands as the cornerstone in our quest for sustainable sanitation solutions across India, underpinning the realisation of development across all spheres.  Through the adoption of pioneering strategies in faecal sludge management and greywater treatment, we are poised to effectively tackle sanitation challenges while advancing the objectives of the Swachh Bharat Mission. By garnering policy support, fostering the exchange of best practices and empowering communities in the process, we pave the way for a future where sanitation transcends mere necessity, becoming a linchpin of sustainable development.

However, the focus must remain steadfast on elevating every village under the SBM to the status of an ODF Plus Model Village, propelled by continuous innovation and new systems thinking.  In doing so, we propel India towards the realisation of its aspirations for a developed nation – Viksit Bharat. Together, let us harness the power of innovation to create a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for all.


The author is director, Policy & Technical Support, WaterAid India. Views expressed are his personal. 



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