Leadership & Political Will

Sanitation needs to be designated as a fundamental service for residents/ citizens for which government must take responsibility and be accountable by establishing institutions to coordinate and regulate the activities of broader participants involved in the sanitation process such as government, service providers, and service users to generate public benefits. Progress on implementing sanitation policies is possible with government leadership, prioritization at various levels of political hierarchy, public-private partnerships, and strategic public investment. The inclusion of sanitation in national and state level policies along with defined strategies and action plans can assist as a specific indicator of the political will and priority given to sanitation. Higher the positioning of sanitation in the order of national development plans, the more likely it is to be prioritized by politicians and other stakeholders. The synergism of political will, robust planning, and the commitment by local governments, the private sector, civil society, and households can drive the success of sanitation in our country.

Role of local government in sanitation

  • Local government must have capability to manage and deliver service-oriented sanitation along with adopting to new strategies in having a more decentralized approach to carry out staff duties efficiently
  • High level and frequent interactions between local government and households/ users can provide more insights on sanitation situation at ground level that can lead to an openness in identifying effective and customizable solutions
  • The active involvement of the private sector and government should be guided by a legislative framework and policies, accompanied by evaluable quality standards, effective and transparent regulatory set-up allowing innovation for better service to citizens

Situational analysis on leadership and political will

Despite the 74th CAA recognizing municipalities as the third sector of government, local governments continue to receive their functional and financial authority from state governments. Although political decentralization was introduced by the 74th CAA, adequate budgetary decentralization was not included. As a result, municipal governments in India lack functional autonomy and are unable to profit from urban economic growth. Additionally, local administrations are not given specific financial resources under the Indian constitution. They are still reliant on intergovernmental transfers (IGTs) produced by both the national and state governments as well as some of their own sources that have been designated by the state governments.

(Figure-1: IGT to Municipal Governments as a Proportion of GDP. Source: Municipal Strengthening for improved Urban Services)

Latest information from the report on municipal Finances given to the 15th Finance Commission reveals that local governments receive 0.45% of GDP, which is significantly lower than the global average share of IGTs.

From past decade, the focus on sanitation goals has shifted for both Indian executive and legislative leadership. The combined efforts from different stakeholders such as state and central governments, private providers, NGOs, research organisations, technology providers, and households enabled India progress towards the goal.

Politico-institutional scenarios are in the direction to mobilize and guide public decision-making, further combined with technical and economic viability, social and public benefits, and institutional planning. The public authorities have a pivotal role in coordinating and regulating multiple stakeholders to design a quality urban sanitation service. However, India currently lacks a systematic leadership programme focused on local councillors in general, particularly women councillors. They are highly disempowered over funds, functions, and functionaries compared to global cities such as New York, London, and Joburg as city governments are yet to be recognised as a unit of governance in India. Along with these aspects, councillors in India have inconsistent pay and it is subject to the approval of the respective state governments.

Based on a research report on 'Implementing political will', covering Singapore, South Korea, West Malaysia, Thailand, Ethiopia, Indonesia and India, there were at least four key leadership activities behind the system-wide reforms.

Setting a common vision based on values

  • National leadership prioritized hygienic practices and sanitation in national development goals. Sanitation was seen as the essential condition for modernity, and wellbeing.
  • In Malaysia, to establish a cohesive civil society, there was political drive to deliver universal access to sanitation
  • The government of India placed sanitation issue at the centre of developmental agenda through Swachh Bharat Mission- Urban 2.0 (SBM-U) with vision of achieving 100% Open Defecation Free (ODF) status, and behaviour change through ‘Jan Andolan’ across all cities

Taking a whole-of-government approach where government is involved in,

  • Coordinating with broader groups of leaders and officials involved in sanitation delivery system
  • Designing and monitoring policy along with assigning administrative roles and responsibilities
  • In India, to implement SBM-U 2.0, four-tier mission management structure is followed. There are further sub levels with members involved to drive and monitor the mission
    • National level- National Advisory and Review Committee (NARC), National Mission Directorate (NMD)
    • State level- State High Powered Committee (SHPC), State Level Technical Committee (SLTC), SBM State Mission Directorate
    • District level- District Level Committee (DLC)
    • Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) level- Municipal Commissioner (MC)/ Executive Officer (EO)

Incentivizing local innovation and achievement

  • Adaptation to local context is pivotal step for successful implementation of sanitation services. Officials are given autonomy to drive human and financial resources required to deliver sanitation activities. Central government supported these officials with multi-year budget and support packages specific to sanitation and public health
  • As per National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP), to encourage local stakeholders to take part in the process of achieving 100% sanitation, cities can implement their own incentive programs at various levels such as municipal wards, Colonies or Residents’ Associations, schools, colleges, and other educational institutions
  • The incentive could include some amount of money for continued maintenance of sanitary systems and infrastructure upgrades for better health and the environment

Course correction and adaptive management

  • Diagnosing and resolving bottlenecks, and developing remedial alternatives are critical features of effective leadership in the organizational culture. They also highlight the absence of plan for delivering wholesale change in sanitation
  • As per NUSP, The City Sanitation Task Force's presence and leadership ensures that fairness, quality procedures, and a focus on deliverables are followed. Other strategies for mid-course adjustment can be provided via supervision and Monitoring & Evaluation of implementation

Although a key barrier to progress in sanitation has been a lack of political will, the commitment to the ambitious sanitation and hygiene target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, is being viewed as an optimistic step towards minimizing the barriers. However, a few key incentives have emerged as key focus areas to ensure that countries through administration can optimize their political will to achieve such inclusive sanitation goals. Such as, alignment of the world view of elected leaders, officials, and implementers with sanitation through an appealing narrative that is ideated around modernity and economic competitiveness to create political buy-in.

In addition, these incentives must be supplemented by prioritisation across government to ensure that sanitation becomes a multi-faced approach across all ministries, creating a fostering environment for the implementation of such policies. The elected representatives of municipal ward, local leaders, and community-based organizations must be mobilized to compete in achieving sanitation. Other means of incentivizing the champions could be scroll of honour, public meeting to recognize the achievements, and rating of the wards. While such rewards are in place, local government must emphasize that the responsibility of stakeholders should not be limited to their own achievements and must support in improving other communities for 100% sanitation. In addition, authorities must also ensure that there is the presence of a learning culture at the local level, as well as a reliable verification mechanism that ensure data can be trusted.

State-level strategies maximise impact and prove to be cost effective for ULBs. For instance, government of Telangana mandates for a systematic training programme for councillors, either induction or refresher trainings. The political leadership at city level can establish city reward schemes to motivate local stakeholders to participate and drive the sanitation process. Adhering to the national guidelines, the rewards could be given to,

  • Municipal wards
  • Colonies or Residents’ associations/ Gated communities
  • Educational institutions such as schools, colleges, and others
  • Market and Bazaar Committees
  • City-based institutions such as railway stations, and bus depots, etc.

The champions can be rewarded with incentives to further maintain sanitary systems, support infrastructure improvements, organize environment fairs, health camps, etc.

A leadership that is focused on sanitation as top priority and is championing it, sets an example for other governments and communities to implement sanitation. This can happen when anyone from political hierarchy, especially from local leadership, is ready to drive the process of implementing sanitation in their constituencies.

At ground level, councillors are the bridge between citizens and the government. Focusing on ‘effective’ councillors to drive the quality of life in cities has become a major focus area in most South Asian countries, led by India. As a key are to initiate the optimization of such ‘effective’ councillors, it is important that these people are well-informed with specialised knowledge and leadership skills to govern, show commitment, and be ‘effective’ in their role.

For instance, commitment from a head of the government can drive the country and could be the ‘gold standard’ for political commitment in democratic countries like India. The commitment from senior civil servants within the Ministry of National Development Planning have translated into increased budget allocations for sanitation in Indonesia. The commitment from senior stakeholders at national and regional levels along with senior staff within the civil service enabled the inclusion of sanitation in the national health extension program in Ethiopia.

It is also noteworthy that the situation is changing in certain states, with the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) providing induction and refresher training across the state of Kerala for all councillors. In addition, the institute has a gender school to mainstream gender in local governance which goes beyond the gender binaries, ensuring inclusivity. Similarly, states, and cities must have a clear vision, roadmap, and targets to be able to follow by the politicians who eventually become prominent political champions and go on to implement strategies at the local level as well. Such champions can become catalysts in driving public participation to improve sanitation.

Training of councillors provides them with the confidence to meaningfully contribute to the decision-making process and take initiatives in municipal meetings to obtain resolutions that entail developments tied with bolstering sanitation infrastructure in their wards. Consequently, training of councillors, further supported by the political will of government authorities, is recognised as a key ingredient for sustainable urbanisation and resilient cities.

The establishment of community-based organizations has been crucial from the perspectives of empowerment and sustainability. These community-based local institutions such as Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Area/Slum Level and City Level federations interact and engage with different communities to understand their sanitation related challenges. Further, these institutions coordinate with the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in delivering the required sanitation services.



Sanitation sub-committees

  • Includes but not limited to SHGs, ALFs of SHGs and CLFs
  • Objectives are to create community awareness, empower to raise sanitation issues, hold ULB accountable, and take necessary action to resolve the issues
  • To establish sanitation sub-committee at ALFs, following process can be followed:
    • Conduct meetings in which members discuss sanitation issues
    • Few office bearers to anchor the sanitation sub-committee
    • Household and street level surveys are driven by SHG members
    • Create a long list and prioritize sanitation issues
    • ALF sub-committee presents the prioritized issues to ULB officials
    • Under SBM, the ULB pays ALF members a certain honorarium per day

Awareness campaigns/ Surveys

  • ALF’s may help/guide households in improving sanitation via mass awareness campaigns such as periodic meetings, door-to-door surveys, and interpersonal interaction
  • As part of door-to-door surveys, SHG members along with household neighbors can monitor the usage of existing toilets
  • ALF can also undertake ward wise camps, school awareness programs, and cleanliness drives

Learning hubs/portals

  • E-learning portals benefit the urban poor and marginalized communities with the help of videos, tutorials, and case studies
    • For instance, U-LEARN (Urban Livelihoods e-Learning and Resource Network) can be used in training various officials
    • Certificates from MoHUA are given to participants on successful completion of these materials
  • Apart from web, mobile apps will help field workforce

Community empowerment

  • Various sanitation-based microenterprises business models can promote employment generation in sanitation sector
  • Mahila Choupals (community gatherings) can help female ALF members in understanding and supporting women’s on sanitation issues
  • Financial modules can be developed to address the financial inclusion issues
  • Enables urban poor beneficiaries to improve their money management skills along with special focus on sanitation workers’ financial privileges

(Table-1: The following are the key outcomes and their description based on the improved sanitation levels in Khunti. Source: The Critical Role of Community Based Organizations in Urban Sanitation and Waste Management)

In Indian cities, there are three categories of elected representatives – Member of Parliament (MPs), Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and councillor who represents the citizens in the city government. The socio-economic and political problems are solved by the councillor as they are the closest to the citizens. They form a bridge between citizens and the government. They are primarily accountable for implementing local action focusing on global challenges such as climate change, economic growth and jobs, gender equality, water, sanitation etc. They ensure to provide access to facilities for vulnerable citizens. They are also active in formulating the city budget that has impact on our day-to-day lives.

Common roles and responsibilities of councillors enlisted across the municipal legislations in India are mentioned below:

  • Participate in council and committee meetings, and meetings of other civic bodies
  • Address civic issues such as roads, water, sanitation management and other functions devolved to the city government by the municipal legislation
  • Drive ward committee meetings and address citizens’ concerns
  • Identifying beneficiaries for various state and central schemes
  • Effective utilisation of ward development fund by identifying ward development priorities
  • Interpret mayor on matters related to the city government administration such as any pending or abandoned issues or provide suggestions during the execution of municipal work

Councillors are keen to leverage technology and social media in their daily work. However, due to lack of training, it becomes difficult to make full use of technology and different social media platforms. To support the councillors’ measures can be taken to

  • Conduct training programmes on financial sustainability at local levels
  • Organize formal & periodic training on budget creation, approval, and allocation processes.
  • Develop capacity building on city governance legislation and governance structures.

Women leaders have critical influence on the implementation of system changes. Their leadership is increasing in India’s city politics with nearly half of the councillors being women. To encourage women in entering the city politics, reservation plays a key role. For instance, cities like Mumbai, Patna and Panaji have women councillors beyond the reservation mandates of the respective states.

Other key aspect of city politics is the inclusion of transgender. Women and transgender councillors undergo unique challenges as compared to men. It is necessary to give them voice and support along with roles and responsibilities for inclusive and sustainable urban future.

Accountability mechanisms

The 15th Finance Commission proposed that 30% of all grants be set aside for sanitation, including the control and treatment of human waste and faecal sludge management. ULBs now have greater responsibilities because of national policies and programs related to citizens and service delivery. Due to their proximity to local communities, ULBs were previously in charge of providing and managing sanitation services under the NUSP. However, under the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban, ULBs are now responsible for a wide range of sanitation-related duties, including building toilets, approving applications and plans, facilitating financial incentives for citizens, creating DPRs for SWM, conducting periodic desludging, implementing ODF strategies, and carrying out IEC activities. ULBs also play a significant part in Swachh Survekshan evidence documentation, monthly MIS uploading, and reporting on sanitation parameters and service level progress.

Digital Infrastructure for Governance, Impact & Transformation (DIGIT), an open-source platform from eGov, offers trustworthy citizen services that necessitate simple cooperation amongst numerous stakeholders. It focuses on generating real-time data to give visibility into the sanitation value chain. To co-create novel solutions in the FSM, this technological infrastructure has been made freely accessible to individuals, communities, companies, and governmental entities.

With the preceding context, following are the crucial issues that must be resolved to achieve transparent and accountable at different levels of municipal governance.

Institutional Framework


Organisation Building

  • Strategy- mission, vision, and shared goals
  • Structure- roles and responsibilities, authorities, coordination, and convergence mechanisms
  • Systems- planning, decision-making, budgeting, information management, accountability and quality control systems, Skills
  • Style- allocation of leadership attention to key priorities
  • Staffing- recruitment, promotion, performance development and appraisal, career planning, etc.

Human Resource Development

  • Development of quality personnel
  • Upgrade knowledge and skills
  • Design incentives and disincentives
  • Facilitate orientation and attitude changes, motivation, etc.

(Table-2: Critical areas to consider in promoting effective municipal governance with transparency and accountability. Source: Transparency and Accountability in Municipal Governance: Role of Institution Development, Performance Management and Citizen Charters)

Types of accountabilities:

Efforts in all dimensions, including social, political, administrative, and financial, are necessary to improve accountability in the provision of sanitation services.

  • Social Accountability- refers to efforts made by the government and other stakeholders (media, commercial sector, funders) to support measures taken by individuals, the media, and civil society organizations to hold governments and decision makers accountable. In the interest of all people, social accountability mechanisms offer additional sets of checks on the government. Investigative journalism, public hearings, surveys, citizen report cards, participatory public policymaking, tracking government spend, citizens' advisory boards, and information and communications technology (ICT) platforms are just a few examples of the different mechanisms that might be used. These tools can encourage citizens and civil society to participate in benchmarking and service provision monitoring, which can increase their understanding of their rights and entitlements.
  • Political- Political accountability refers to the existence of efficient ways for holding government officials and decision-makers accountable for their duty to guarantee universal access to sanitation services. The ability of civil society to participate in planning, budgeting, monitoring, and evaluation in the sanitation sector, the media's effectiveness in holding the government accountable, complaint and redress procedures in place for sanitation projects and operations, and knowledge of citizens' rights to WASH services are all examples of mechanisms that can assist in holding governments responsible for sanitation services.
  • Administrative- If public organizations fail to guarantee that everyone has access to sanitation services, administrative accountability translates into citizens' capacity to hold those institutions responsible.
  • Financial- refers to the systems in place in the sanitation sector to enable transparent budget spending by the government and service providers. These include monitoring budget spending, internal and social auditing, and public access to utility data etc.

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