Policy and Regulation

Principles (Figure 1: Image of CWIS House. Source: Asian Development Bank)

A large section of the population in India both in urban and rural areas relies on on-site sanitationA sanitation system in which excreta and wastewater are collected, stored and/or treated on the plot where they are generated. There are two main categories of on-site sanitation technologies: ‘wet’ which require water for flushing; and ‘dry’ which do not require any water for flushing. (OSS) systems for managing fecal waste given the absence of proper infrastructure. This challenge of fecal sludge and septage managementFaecal Sludge and Septage Management is a collective term that refers to the collection, transport and treatment of fecal sludge from septic tanks or other on-site sanitation systems. (Inclusive sanitation) is rapidly growing in urban areas where infrastructure development has been outpaced by population growth and housing development. There is potential for significant negative impacts on public health and the environment unless well-regulated service chains under the umbrella of a Inclusive sanitation strategy are in place.

Capable institutions, safety and reliability, equity and inclusion, and sustainability are key elements of inclusive sanitation that can ensure urban residents have access to sustainable sanitation services, while managing human waste safely across the service chain. For a long period, inclusive sanitation in developing countries like India tended to be unsystematic and unplanned. Fecal sludge (FS) collection services have often been provided by the informal sector without adequate technology, regulations, and safety precautions. Negative impacts of insufficient and unsustainably managed FS services highlight the urgent need for official recognition, support, and regulatory guidance for inclusive sanitation via policy, regulation, and laws/standards/guidelines in order to enable sustainable action on the elemental building blocks of inclusive sanitation.

There is also a need to consider the role such policies and laws play in institutionalizing inclusive sanitation within city-wide sanitation strategies (in addition to centralized wastewater and sewerage management), to ensure commitment and accountability on part of authorities to ensure safe and sustainable service provision, and also coordinate partnerships with private sector participants in the inclusive sanitation process.

Building a better understanding of the legal rules and regulatory environment in which inclusive sanitation is located enables us to plan impactful, context-specific interventions that may serve as exemplars of best practices in WSH.

Institutional and legislative challenges hamper development of clear, actionable inclusive sanitation policy at national, state, and city-levels.

  • Inadequate awareness and knowledge of inclusive sanitation concepts among decision-making authorities is one of the first hurdles, which affects prioritization of inclusive sanitation policymaking and implementation adversely.
  • Improper delineation of roles and responsibilities of state agencies for water, sanitation, and public health lead to overlapping of scope and poor coordination in consensus building.
  • Unclear level of regulatory and financial support provided by the center and state agencies to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in implementing city sanitation plans affects planning activities and invites policy paralysis at all levels.
  • Exclusion of marginalized communities residing in urban areas (de-notified slums, peri-urban establishments) from municipal frameworks also impacts successful execution of inclusive sanitation strategies.
  • In most states, the state governments through state-level departments and parastatal agencies hold the responsibility on sanitation
  • Even in states where the responsibility for urban water and sanitation has officially been assigned to ULBs, they are,
    • Frequently underequipped in terms of financial and organizational capabilities and rely on state-level departments for financing and project execution for capital projects
    • Frequently have their responsibility restricted to managing operations and maintenance

Unlike other countries where the construction of facilities has preceded policy, India’s focus on policy development allows cities to develop integrated strategies that maximize the efficacy of the future physical infrastructure; although the lack of a) physical infrastructure to treat FS, and b) existing local and state policy and management practices for inclusive sanitation pose significant challenges as states begin to address the critical issue of OSS and DRR linkages with last-mile sanitation service delivery. 

India has in recent times made rapid progress in addressing concerns regarding inclusive sanitation, with the National Urban Sanitation Policy in 2008, which touched upon inclusive sanitation as part of City Sanitation plans, followed by advisory notes and manuals (Septage Management in Urban India, 2013, Primer on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management, 2016, CPHEEO Manual on Sewerage and Sewage Treatment, etc), as well as large-scale programs such as Swachh Bharat Mission guidelines, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and Namami Gange.

This process eventually culminated in the release of the National Policy on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management in 2017, which aimed to address cross-cutting issues in inclusive sanitation such as design of OSS, frequency of desludging, operational safety of sanitary workers, tariffs for cleaning, penalties to be imposed, registration of private sector providers etc.

The National inclusive sanitation Policy targets:

  • Leveraging inclusive sanitation to achieve 100% access to safe sanitation
  • Mainstreaming Integrated Citywide Sanitation
  • Mitigating gender-based sanitation insecurity
  • Safe and sanitary disposal of FS from OSS facilities 
  • Awareness generation and behavior change (in both, communities and sanitation institutions)

The National Policy on inclusive sanitation also recommends establishment of similar state-specific policies that provide an overall state-level framework, objectives, timelines and implementation plans to urban local bodies (ULBs).


(Figure 2: Visualization of Indian states and UTs that have developed inclusive sanitation policy documents. Source: Sanitation Capacity Building Platform)

The other instrumental participants along with national/state governments and ULBs in the sanitation process are Technical Support Units (TSUs). The TSU at the national level consists of technical resources with expertise in capacity building, monitoring and evaluation, social mobilization, livelihoods, and sanitation. A state level TSU is usually set up under the Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department (MAWS) that is considered as one of the key support systems. The rationale behind these TSUs is to serve as the technical arm for MAWS and ULBs to help them implement state- and city-level sanitation projects. Some states have stakeholders such as Department of Urban Development (DoUD), technical institutions or think tanks, Ministry of Jal Shakti (at national and state levels), Housing and Urban Planning Department, and nominated sector experts involved in urban sanitation.

In Tamil Nadu, an advisory committee led by Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) was formed, and the goals were to gain support for major FSM decision-making and offer strategic oversight to the actions and arrangements leading to the accomplishment of complete sanitation. The TSU was liable to the advisory committee. 

In Odisha, Ernst & Young has assumed the role of the State's Technical Support Unit (TSU) in the area of sanitation, assisting the administration in implementing its numerous plans into practice throughout the ULBs.

Disasters severely impair both people's quality of life and the ability of entire communities to function. Rebuilding damaged facilities, such as sewage systems and water supplies, not only helps to restore a sense of normalcy but also stops the spread of diseases. The primary objective of emergency response is to stop the spread of waterborne diseases that are brought on by defective water systems, different types of point pollution, and a lack of sanitary facilities. Developing resilience to climate change and related disasters is a major duty and responsibility for urban municipal governments. The awareness and understanding of these risks, as well as degrees of motivation among elected officials and government departments, have an impact on the integration of climate change and disaster risk components into city development plans or by the ULBs. ULBs, Para-statal, and State government's vertical and horizontal coordination mechanisms play a crucial role in establishing links with city development processes and providing resilient services, strengthening the enabling environment needed for putting such resilience measures into practice.

The Government of India (GoI) has already taken a number of actions that are also the primary entry points for building resilience in urban areas to promote sustainable development amidst the increasing challenges of urbanization. The table below details the entry points for mainstreaming resilience at different levels of government.

Government Level

Entry points type

National Level

  • National Missions as part of National Action Plan on Climate Change, National Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction
  • Sectorial Policies (Water and Sanitation, Transport, Buildings, Energy, etc)

Sub-national/State Level

  • State Agenda and Action Plan on Climate Change, District Disaster Management Plans
  • Sectorial Policies

City Level

City Disaster Management Plan, City Sanitation Plan, City Development Plan, City Master Plan, City Mobility Plan, City Resilience Strategies

(Table-1: Entry points for mainstreaming resilience at different levels of government. Source: National Institute of Disaster Management, Government of India)

The sanitation value chain makes the interface between the environment, rights of sanitation workers, and urban development quite evident. inclusive sanitation and its associated policies and guidelines in India are set up in a complex legal, constitutional, and regulatory environment, with actions and responsibilities spanning the central, state, and city-levels, as well as across several ministries and departments, such as Water, Environment/Pollution, Urban Development, and Labor & Employment, among others. The Constitution of India, through several acts, laws, and by-laws, governs inclusive sanitation-related activities in this regulatory sandbox.

Fecal sludge management (FSM) is the preferred choice for smaller towns due to high dependency on on-site sanitation systems, high susceptibility from insufficient operation & de-sludging practices of these on-site systems. Involvement of households, de-sludging service providers, city administration, and local organizations is crucial to plan and organize FSM. 

The on-site systems must continuously be improved for effective fecal sludge control. Municipal bylaws should specify that on-site systems must be designed to specifications, be easily accessible, and undergo routine desludging activity.  One of the first steps for the city administrations in implementing FSM would be passing these resolutions. Model resolutions and bylaws may facilitate the process even for smaller governments with limited personnel and capability.

Implementation and enforcement of policies at the state and ULB-levels are dependent on robust governance and monitoring mechanisms that promote flexible management and decentralized decision-making. States and ULBs need to develop implementation/execution strategies, as well as guidelines that provide an overall framework, objectives, timelines, and detailed implementation plan, all via institutions with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Hence, to make sure the ULB receives all the necessary direction and support, a diverse group such as City Sanitation Task Forces (CSTF) is needed to serve as the focus stakeholder group.

Agencies directly responsible for sanitation (sewerage, on-site sanitation, water supply, solid waste, drainage) including water supply and sewerage board, different divisions / departments of ULB, Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Parastatals, other state departments etc. The following potential stakeholder groups are included in the CSTF.

(Figure-3 Potential stakeholder groups included in the CSTF. Source: German society for International Cooperation (GIZ) GmbH, Support to National Urban Sanitation Policy - II)

Dedicated decentralized inclusive sanitation/Septage Management Cells at State and ULBs, located within departments of Water and Sanitation, or Public Health, are vital to sustaining local development and innovation. Such cells, created using funds available for inclusive sanitation, can be responsible for development of assessment and monitoring mechanisms, maintaining databases and registry of certified systems, as well as creation of specific outcomes and process standards to ensure compliance. Such dedicated cells can be empowered to establish institutional mandates, that are fundamental for operationalizing interventions and establishing ownership of inclusive sanitation activities by a city.

Digitization can lead to effective monitoring and regulation of sanitation operations and policies. The operations that fall under the category of digitization range from the simple activity like entry of handwritten data collection records into a database with accounting software, to more advanced ones like implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) in the sanitation industry by labeling containers with QR codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) tags. The organizations use a combination of generic and custom digital technologies. The table below details on some of the common digital applications used across the sanitation value chain.

Application type





Tracking Fecal Sludge Services

To promote & regulate the fecal sludge (FS) emptying & transportation sector

GPS tracking of service providers offers insights in the size of their market segment, their areas of operation and transport routes

Toilet Finder Apps

Help find facilities and support the push for improved sanitation

The apps show the closest toilet facilities and provide directions with

Facility Management & Maintenance

Ensuring sustainable operation and maintenance of public institutions

GPS tracking of service providers offers insights in the size of their market segment, their areas of operation and transport routes

Container Based Sanitation (CBS)

Provide a robust option for safely managed sanitation

The containers are collected frequently and transported to a treatment site. CBS consist of Apps for data collection, route checking via GPS tracker, and supply chain tracking system with QR codes

Mobile Applications (Apps)

Digital tools in WASH in Schools in India

WASH in Schools self-assessment apps to monitor the school performance, featuring the real-time rating of the school as well as recommendations for improving the school to the next star/level

School self-assessments, easy data collection and comparison in terms of school ranking to create demand for (self-) improvements.

Sensors along the Sanitation Chain

Allows objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit in addition to reduced human intervention

When augmented with sensors and actuators, a technology can provide immediate (performance) data and can be monitored, managed and regulated remotely

Data Information

Graphic Generator and GIS data for SFD Production

SFD (Shit Flow Diagrams) engage sanitation experts, political leaders and civil society in coordinated discussions about excreta management in cities

The Graphic Generator allows to produce an SFD Graphic in just three steps: Data input and with a couple of clicks, the tool draws an SFD Graphic that can be downloaded for use in reports and publications

(Table-2 Digital approaches in sanitation. Source: SuSanA)

Achievable data on sanitation management operations will be provided through digital sanitation systems, enabling decision-making by stakeholders such as city sanitation plan (CSP). This information will be utilized to improve the waste collection and treatment procedures, identify problem areas, and support evidence-based decision-making. Along with information available through digital tracking, at various phases of its development, the CSP should be made available to the public for feedback to encourage widespread ownership that reflects the collective and inclusive nature of the sanitation efforts. The best way to sustain change is to routinely gather formal data, informal information, and feedback, make it public, and utilize that knowledge to demand public agencies, private service providers, households, and communities to sustain sanitation practices.

Sanitation cells may be equipped with human resources that work together with ULBs and Technical Support Agencies to perform key monitoring and grievance redressal services, along with promoting behavior change, and ensuring community involvement and demand for services. Regular meetings, with publicly released records of meeting minutes and action plans are some methods to improve performance and promote accountability within these sanitation institutions.

Most Indian cities now base their assessments of municipal performance largely on the qualitative and quantitative data given by ULBs and service providers. Surveys of the views of the citizens can serve as an extra diagnostic tool to gauge the level of contentment of actual users of municipal services. ULBs may also use citizen feedback to gauge the extent to which the public is aware of their rights and responsibilities. Feedback from citizens has grown to be a significant data gathering technique for "program evaluations" and "performance-based budgeting systems" in many states. The Mehsana public feedback survey gave the ULB useful information about the quality of their service delivery. The methods for assessing citizens’ feedback included Citizen / public hearings, Focus groups discussion, Voluntary Feedback, Interviews, Citizens’ committees, Citizens’ report cards, Complaint analysis, and Feedback on websites. With the help of SLB Connect, citizens provided objective feedback on a number of municipal services, including their accessibility, usability, dependability, and satisfaction. Based on the feedback analysis, ULBs committed to resolving issues raised by this survey from citizens.

Due to the cross-functional interactions of inclusive sanitation activities with other departments, it is important to vest such cells with adequate responsibilities and autonomy to conduct sanitation operations effectively and smoothly.

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