In a remote hamlet of Sikkim, a young man has a new toilet built by his house. He no longer escorts his wife and children before sunrise to the bushes in the fields, standing guard to shoo away wayside dogs and local pests. “I don’t feel like an animal any more,” he says.
In India, more than seven in 10 rural people have no access to toilets. Of the one billion people in the world who have no toilet, India accounts for nearly 600 million. Swachh Bharat is an audacious attempt to fix these blots. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking personal interest, headlining the Swachh Bharat and smart cities push right on top of his checklist.
Modi took on the issue of public hygiene soon after he took power in 2014. Building toilets is a priority and open defecation free (ODF) villages will bring swift public health benefits. To build 100 million toilets by 2019 and 100 new Smart Cities by 2020 are on the to-do list. So, where do you start?
To deliver high quality on any of these massive projects, service levels must first be measured against promises. In the quality world, measurement is critical. The Quality Council of India is working with the Indian government to implement the globally accepted quality techniques. The first Swachh Survekshan ranked 73 Indian cities and will now expand its scope.
Without a baseline pecking order, it is near impossible to proceed in a structured way. The Quality Council of India works to define these metrics and understand what we are up against. Think of the last time you had to tangle with the government. May be it was about your Aadhaar card, ration card, driving licence, passport, filing an FIR (first information report) or may be even heading into a public loo on a road trip.
Most Indians will have some gripe relating to a specific service. It’s irrelevant whether the district, village, state or the central government provides that service — Indians are certainly entitled to a higher quality which has a happy effect on their time, productivity and well being.
But how do you measure how much nuisance value is par for the course and what’s not? The prime minister’s grievance portal alone gets 90,000 complaints a month about government services. The government analysed these to figure out what can be done to attack the underlying cause of the most common grouses.
In addressing the top 20, changes are under way including a pensions portal, scholarships portal and simplifying refunds in railways. But that’s not all 90,000 blips in how the citizen sees the government. With a steady stream of people moving off the fields, those numbers will only run amuck.
Most urban growth in Asia and indeed in India is sprawl — where cities burst at their seams and explode outward, rapidly slipping out of control. Yet it is this crowded and sweaty public square where the soul of government policy is palpable — in its train stations, airports, water fountains, sidewalks and playgrounds, sewerage and transport systems, in its public amenities that are not for the elites, a real voice on the phone which reassures you that your passport is indeed in the mail.
Like the rise of megacities around the world, which will soon be home to 8 in 10 people, India’s future is urban. How can our government respond to this growing clout when there’s an 800 million strong young population that is increasingly demanding. Third party evaluation is critical here so that the government can focus on policy and not get distracted by evaluation criteria.
Consumers expect better phones, internet connections, reliable power, water and a government that can deliver better public services. Toxic environment, dirty rivers and urban smog is coming under fire and voters are holding politicians responsible for things they can control and even those they can’t. What drives both tensions (and prices) skyward is a clash between outsize demand and limited supply.
So it is for India, that’s our “local”, our canvas both for private and public services. Seen against the context of a landlocked, populous India, when Prime Minister Modi first spoke about Swachh Bharat, people cheered but could not fathom how such a basic ideal would result in quality upgrades across government.
Two years on, there is certainly a behavioural change sweeping across both urban and rural India. The Swachh Bharat urban and rural projects have set off healthy competition among cities and districts. Self-help groups, NGOs and popular icons pitched in and the results are showing: A record number of sustainable toilets, open defecation-free cities, schools with gender specific toilets and decrease in water borne diseases in ODF villages and towns.
The Quality Council of India, the national accreditation body, has been involved in most of these schemes to evaluate performance through an internationally benchmarked evaluation matrix. Third party evaluation and assessment is practised the world over, it reduces conflict of interest and lets the government focus on policy implementation rather than measurement.
After ranking 73 cities on cleanliness, the council has now completed the rankings for the first set of 75 rural districts. Results will be out soon. It is currenly working on aligning the prime minister’s newly minted ZED (zero-effect-zero-defect) scheme for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with the “Make in India” programme. What has emerged is a maturity matrix through which SMEs can reach the quality benchmarks of the world’s best.
(Adil Zainulbhai is Chairman, Quality Council of India @QualityCouncil. The views expressed are personal)