Urban Rural Convergence for Faecal Sludge Management in Odisha

The launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in 2014 brought in significant policy attention on universalising basic sanitation in India. The programme set out to achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF) status by October 2019, however also helped make all tiers and agencies of the state focus on all aspects of sanitation. Around the same time, Odisha which had been lagging on sanitation services also witnessed an increase in policy attention towards achieving safely managed sanitation for all driven from a number of internal factors. Based on early research on alternative sanitation service delivery models since 2013, in 2015, Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and Practical Action with the support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Arghyam initiated Project Nirmal in partnership with Odisha’s Housing and Urban Development Department (H&UDD), District Administration, and Municipal governments initiated a pilot demonstration for instituting Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) systems and strengthening decentralised sanitation service delivery in two medium towns of Odisha – Dhenkanal and Angul. Project Nirmal was conceptualised in response to an increased thrust towards, and need for, FSM in the state. It was envisaged that the learnings from Project Nirmal’s implementation would inform state- and national-level legal, financial, institutional, and community participation frameworks for scaling up the project approach. In 2018, under Project Nirmal, Dhenkanal emerged as one of the first municipalities in Odisha to construct a Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) with support from AMRUT. Consequently, Odisha rapidly embarked on a journey to achieve SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation for all) in its urban areas by covering all urban local bodies under FSM. By 2022, all but two of the 115 cities and towns in the state had already built and started operating safe citywide FSM systems.

As rural India also embarked on a journey towards eliminating Open Defecation under SBM-G, rural areas in Odisha witnessed rapid construction of toilet facilities marked by a predominance of on-site sanitation systems. Our research and surveys showed that a bulk of these toilets had been constructed with single pits or septic tanks and not twin pits as recommended by the programme. Consequently, the emerging need for FSM in rural areas was identified. To address this issue and building on Odisha’s success with instituting FSM systems in its urban areas, CPR and UNICEF with support from the District Government of Dhenkanal, Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) piloted a novel “urban-rural convergence” in Dhenkanal district by taking a district-wide planning approach. This novel “urban-rural convergence” approach aims to leverage the existing FSM treatment infrastructure and desludging services in urban areas to provide FSM service in neighbouring rural areas. The urban-rural convergence approach, therefore, bridges the urban-rural divide, bypasses the need for creating additional infrastructure, and provides opportunities for institutional convergence. Moreover, by virtue of providing FSM services in rural areas, this approach has consequential positive impact on local environmental pollution abatement and minimising health risks associated with unsafe management of faecal waste. Therefore, to apply theory to practice, the Dhenkanal pilot demonstration was conceptualised and executed to demonstrate the workings of this approach by extending existing FSM services in Dhenkanal Municipality to neighbouring Gram Panchayats (GPs).
Under the Dhenkanal urban-rural convergence pilot demonstration, a “Plug-in Model” for tagging rural GPs with Dhenkanal Municipality was built by using a step-by-step planning approach wherein:

  1. spatial analysis was conducted to identify ‘plug-in zones’ (within a 10-20 km radius from urban areas);
  2. sample survey was conducted to estimate the rural faecal sludge loading;
  3. capacity utilization trend for Dhenkanal FSTP was analysed to estimate spare capacity; and
  4. stakeholder consultations were organised to build consensus amongst and urban and rural local bodies.

Afterwards, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between Dhenkanal Municipality and tagged rural GPs to codify the terms of agreements such as tariff structure for desludging services, mechanisms for payment, and financing and monitoring. Additionally, Information Education and Communication (IEC) campaigns were launched in the tagged rural GPs to spread awareness and generate demand for FSM services.

Figure 1: Memorandum of Agreement signing between urban and rural functionaries

The urban-rural convergence pilot in Dhenkanal successfully extended FSM services to 110 plugged-in rural GPs, benefitting over 2 lakh rural households. As of October 2022, Dhenkanal Municipality’s FSTP has received and treated over 1000 KL of rural sludge received from the plugged-in rural GPs.

 Figure 2: Desludging vehicles emptying faecal sludge and septage at treatment plant

 Figure 3: Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant in Dhenkanal Municipality

After the successful pilot demonstration in Dhenkanal, a similar pilot was also implemented in the Angul district of Odisha where 77 rural GPs were tagged to Angul Municipality, benefitting over 90,000 rural households. Moreover, based on the learnings from the pilot demonstration for urban-rural convergence using the district-wide planning approach, we have developed a “Template for District-level Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Planning” that aims to aid state and district governments, practitioners, and developmental partners in creating a District-level FSM Plan for any district in the country. The Template is founded on two approaches to enabling FSM services for rural households, viz. plug-in and greenfield (stand-alone FSM infrastructure and services in rural GPs), aligned with the guidance from the SBM-G Phase II.
The urban-rural convergence model has received significant traction in the state and national policy circles owing to the uniqueness and replicability of this approach. The Government of India releasing a notification on 14th September, 2021 urging the state governments across India to facilitate the adoption of an integrated approach by urban and rural authorities for convergent action on FSM and Plastic Waste Management (PWM). Moreover, due to the success of the pilot demonstrations in Dhenkanal and Angul districts and recognition by the State and National Ministries, the Government of Odisha decided to scale up the urban-rural convergence model for FSM and PWM to all the districts in the state, supported by Centre for Policy Research. Consequently, a Letter of Understanding (LoU) was signed on 21 September 2021 between the Housing and Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department, Government of Odisha, and CPR and UNICEF for scaling up the model in a phase-wise manner.

 Figure 4: Signing of Letter of Understanding Event

Recognising the uniqueness and potential for replication of the urban-rural convergence model, Dhenkanal Municipality was felicitated with the ISC-FICCI Sanitation Award for the “Best Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Model” in 2021. In 2022, Centre for Policy Research won the ISC-FICCI Sanitation Awards 2022 for Best Non-Profit Engagement Model in Sanitation: Urban for spearheading the pilot implementation of the urban-rural convergence model in Dhenkanal.


 Figure 5: ISC-FICCI Sanitation Award 2022 ceremony

CPR Faculty Speak: Sabina Dewan

Sabina Dewan is a Senior Visiting Fellow at CPR and Founder and Executive Director of the JustJobs Network. Her research focusses on delineating strategies for job creation and workforce development. She works closely with governments, businesses, multilateral and grassroots organisations providing critical labour market information to improve interventions aimed at generating more and better employment, and cultivating employability, especially for women, youth and marginalised groups. In this edition of CPR Faculty Speak, she talks about her work and interests at CPR, why they matter, what impact she hopes to achieve and more.

Tell us about your research work and interests at CPR.

“To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.” With this quote, American philosopher and educational reformer, John Dewey captures the centrality of purposeful work to our lives. My life’s work is understanding labour markets. This includes examining the impact of major forces like technology, climate change, and the pandemic, on employment in India. At CPR, I focus on unfolding trends; for instance, how the proliferation of digital labour platforms affects women’s work; or how the pandemic affected small businesses and their workers. The goal is to ultimately suggest ways to manage the impact of these forces and to create better work, more resilient workforces, and an inclusive labour market.

Why do these issues interest you?

I believe that a healthy labour market is the foundation for everything from the well-being and development of society, to political and economic performance. Given the scale and heterogeneity of India’s labour market, the challenges we face are enormous. India has the largest youth population in the world. Over 90 percent of our employment is informal; and close to 70 percent of our businesses are unregistered. Our female labour force participation is among the bottom third relative to other countries. We must prioritize the provision of enough good quality employment for our large and growing youth population; improve women’s economic participation; and enable wider access to entitlements. My work is focussed on cultivating a deep understanding of these issues from the ground up, and to help find solutions to a range of employment challenges. We must lift these issues up as priorities in public discourse and policymaking.

How has this issue evolved in the country and globally over the years?

Over the last decade, the world has moved from a discourse centred on the impact of economic integration and globalization on labour, to a focus on how major forces such as climate change, technological acceleration, demographic transitions, and more recently the pandemic, are restructuring labour markets and upending traditional employment models. These changes are happening at a pace and scale that is faster than the ability of governance institutions — labour regulation, social protection, education and skills training systems, to keep up. India is also grappling with these challenges.

What impact do you aim to achieve through your research?

My work tries to understand the impact of these forces on the world of work and suggest ways to (re)design relevant governance architecture such as the labour codes and associated rules; social security provision; education and skills training systems; incentive and support for small businesses, to help build more resilient labour markets. My goal is to help move beyond reactionary policy and action to prompt a more strategic approaches to good job creation and workforce development.

What are you currently working on and why is it important?

The last two decades have seen a proliferation of digital platforms and the emergence of an ecosystem of digital work. One of my current projects looks at how work mediated through digital platforms is gendered; how it affects outcomes for women; and how it does, or does not, shift power relations for women in the economy, society, and in their own households. The many benefits of women’s economic participation are well known, and yet their participation rate in India remains low relative to other countries and relative to Indian men. We need to understand why this continues to be the case, and the opportunities and challenges emerging trends in the labour market pose for women’s work.

I am simultaneously working on a study that assesses the impact of COVID-19 on Indian small businesses and their workers. 63.4 million non-agricultural micro, small and medium enterprises employ just under 111 million workers and contribute to approximately 30 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Given these facts, understanding what factors helped some businesses survive the crisis while others failed, and the experiences of the workers in these businesses, is critical to securing businesses and workers against future shocks.

To know more about Sabina Dewan’s work, click here.

Scaling City Institutions for India (SCI-FI) Initiative at Centre for Policy Research (CPR) awarded Best Non-Profit Engagement Model in Sanitation: Rural and Urban by India Sanitation Coalition (ISC) and FICCI

New Delhi 7 December: The Scaling City Institutions for India (SCI-FI) Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) won the award for the ‘best non-profit engagement model in sanitation: rural and urban’ at the 6th edition of the ISC-FICCI Sanitation Awards Ceremony and India Sanitation Conclave. CPR’s SCI-FI Initiative was presented the award in recognition and appreciation for the unique urban-rural convergence model for faecal sludge management in Dhenkanal in Odisha. The initiative has been working in the state since 2014, offering technical expertise to the state and local-level administration to achieve safely-managed sanitation for all.

The urban-rural convergence project was conceptualised by CPR’s SCI-FI Initiative in response to the emerging need for faecal sludge management in Odisha’s rural areas as the state witnessed rapid construction of toilet facilities under Swachh Bharat. The model is based on taking a district-wide planning approach to sanitation. It involves leveraging existing urban sanitation infrastructure and services for rural areas, in neighboring gram panchayats. The successful implementation of the model has led to a scale-up across Odisha. It has also received traction at the national level.

Speaking on the occasion, Shubhagato Dasgupta, Senior Fellow and Director of CPR’s SCI-FI Initiative said, “We are delighted to receive this award and would like to thank our many partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, Arghyam, Practical Action, the Municipality and District government of Dhenkanal and finally and foremost the Housing and Urban Development Department of the Government of Odisha without whom this would not have been possible.”

President and Chief Executive of CPR, Yamini Aiyar said, “In the past few years, CPR has broadened its engagements and deepened work at the subnational level, offering technical expertise to solve difficult and complex policy problems. Our longstanding work in Odisha aimed to provide safely managed sanitation for all is one such example. This award is a recognition of that effort.”

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