National Goals Call for Creative Approach
Panchalee Thakur

A Battle for Girls
The status of women in society is one of the worst forms of contradictions of modern India, where on the one hand, women occupy positions of power and influence in various fields, and on the other hand, they face systematic discrimination that starts before birth and continues throughout.

Census figures show an alarming trend. In 2001, in Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh, the birth rate of girls was 900 or fewer for every 1,000 boys in the age group of 0-6. In 10 years, the red patch in the census map that indicates this bottom percentile in sex ratio had spread to seven states in west and north India. The green patch, indicating states with a healthy ratio of 951-975 girls for every 1,000 boys, had also shrunk.

According to the 2011 census, the national average is 918 girls for every 1,000 boys.

In January 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme – a comprehensive program to prevent gender-biased sex selection before birth, elimination of female fetuses, survival and protection of the girl child, and education and participation of the girl child for her own development. Alongside, the government launched the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, a special deposit account scheme for girls.

Says an official from the BBBP Program Management Unit, “The census trend is a manifestation of gender inequality in a society where sons are preferred to carry on the family name and inheritance, and expected to take care of parents in their old age. Girls are associated with dowry at the time of marriage, and hence a burden for parents.”

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao – Program Basics
The BBBP program is a multi-sectoral, interministerial initiative with the goal to improve the child sex ratio in 100 districts across the country where the ratio is critically low. It’s a first of its kind program with defined, monitorable targets and a multi-tiered implementation strategy that involves the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Human Resource Development, states and union territories, district administrations, village bodies, and the local community.

One of the main goals of BBBP is to improve the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) in 100 “gender critical” districts by 10 basis points in a year.

Another goal is to reduce gender differentials in the under-five child mortality rate from 8 points in 2011 to 4 points by 2017.

Elected representatives and grassroots functionaries will be trained as community champions to mobilize communities to improve Child Sex Ratio (CSR) and promote girls’ education.

The core strategies around which the program is built are:

  • Evolving a sustained social mobilization and communication campaign to change societal norms and create equal value for the girl child;

  • Positioning improvement in the CSR as a lead development indicator for good governance;

  • Focusing on very low CSR for accelerated impact;

  • Mobilizing and empowering frontline worker teams as catalysts for social change;

  • Capacity building of urban and rural local bodies with a view to making them girl child friendly;

  • Ensuring that service delivery structures are responsive to issues of gender and children’s rights; and

  • Enabling inter-ministerial and inter-institutional convergence at different levels

The overall budgetary control and administration of the program is with the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. A budgetary allocation of Rs. 100 crore has been made for BBBP, with an additional Rs. 100 crore to be mobilized from the plan outlay for the 12th Five Year Plan. The ministry is also looking for funds from corporates and social organizations.

The total estimated cost of the program is Rs. 200 crore, of which Rs. 115 crore is proposed to be released during the first six months since the launch in January 2015.

At the state level, the secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, is responsible for overall program direction and implementation, including funds disbursal.

The ministry has set up a task force with representatives from its own, besides ministries of health and family welfare, human resource development, and information and broadcasting, and other relevant government departments, gender experts, and representatives from civil society.

Each state has a task force that is headed by the chief secretary and assisted by a project management unit for technical matters and program monitoring. Similarly, each district, block, and village or ward in the 100 gender critical districts, has a task force.

Technical inputs for program implementation and coordination are being provided by the Program Management Unit of the National Resource Centre for Women under the ministry.

Some Innovations in BBBP
Publicize results: Each month, every gram panchayat must display the number of boys and girls born in the village. The Guddi Gudda Board is a simple yet powerful tool to show the progress that each village makes in restoring gender balance among newborns.

More power to implementation: The implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 that makes it illegal to determine the sex of the fetus was earlier with the chief medical officer of the district. Under BBBP, the deputy commissioner/district collector is in-charge, who will be assisted by district and block level task forces. PCPNDT cells in districts have been strengthened with more resources and infrastructure. It will also use data on pregnancies registered in each village in the first trimester for monitoring purpose.

Incentives for target achievement: State governments and districts that perform well will receive national recognition. There are cash incentives to be won for state and district officers who achieve their targets. The government will also name and shame those who miss their targets.

Review mechanism: States and district administrations are aware that the Prime Minister’s Office regularly reviews the progress of the program across the country. This creates pressure on the administration to perform.

Targeted advocacy strategy: The advocacy strategy is based on social and behavior change communication with actionable metrics. The strategy is based on research done to unearth ground realities in Punjab and Haryana, the initial epicenters of the problem, plus reviews of previous campaigns to ascertain what worked and what did not. The ministry took the help of civil society organizations in drawing up the strategy.

Rejuvenating a River
She is revered as a goddess, a source of life for 400 million people, yet she is counted among the top most polluted rivers in the world. Over the past almost three decades, the Ganga has swallowed up big budget plans to contain the level of pollution in the river with little outcome. The amount of pollutants in the river has in fact grown in spite of these measures, and hitherto clean sections of the river have now turned dirty.

The campaign to rejuvenate the Ganga has come back to national attention with Namami Gange, a program launched by Mr. Modi last year.

Under Namami Gange, there are separate projects for pollution reduction, Ganga basin management, and beautification of ghats (river banks) and river fronts. Pollution reduction is the government’s immediate focus area.

It is a three-phased program spread over 18 years and is estimated to cost around Rs. 51,000 crore.

In the short term, the government gave a deadline of six months to stop sewage from open drains from falling into the river, and restrict the discharge of industrial and chemical waste into the river. However, progress has been slow and the Prime Minister has expressed his dissatisfaction at the pace.

The Ganga Today
According to the latest government figures as quoted in the media, the Ganga endures 3,636 million liters of sewage a day from 118 urban bodies across the 50 cities that it passes through. This sewage comprising of both domestic and industrial effluent accounts for 85 per cent of the Ganga’s pollution. There are 764 factories along the Ganga, most of which are small-scale with no capability to treat their waste, consume 1,123 million liters a day (MLD) of water and discharge 500 MLD of waste into the river.

The installed capacity of sewage treatment plants (STP) along the river is 1,027 MLD, which is just one third of the official sewage load. Interestingly, the measured sewage load is close to double the official load -- 6,087 MLD.

Across the five states that it passes, the river is the most polluted in parts of West Bengal (WB) and Uttar Pradesh (UP). Ninety percent of polluting factories are located in UP. Increasing pollution in the Ganga has been an issue of fierce debate between environmental activists and infrastructure creators.

According to a report published by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 2014, the quantity of water flowing into the Ganga has decreased significantly because of numerous hydro-electrical projects in the higher reaches of the river in Uttarakhand. Less flowing water means less chance of pollutants getting diluted. CSE has been lobbying against the setting up of hydel projects in the upper reaches of the river.

Chetan Pandit, former member, Central Water Commission, the highest technical body that advices the Ministry of Water Resources, says, “Pollution levels are the highest near Varanasi in UP and Garden Reach in WB but the activist community is focusing on hydel projects in the upper reaches where pollution is not a concern area. Hydel projects are nonconsumptive users of water, meaning all the water taken out of the river returns to the river downstream of the project.”

According to Mr. Pandit, hydel projects have no influence on water quality in polluted reaches. “Concerns over pollution are being used as an excuse to obstruct the construction of hydel projects,” he adds.

Previous Efforts and Outcomes
The first mega plan to clean up the Ganga began in 1986 – the Ganga Action Plan (GAP). In 1993, GAP was extended to four tributaries of the Ganga – Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar, and Mahanadi.

Explains Mr. Pandit, “For a while, GAP did good work. City sewage lines were laid, new STPs were added, common effluent treatment plants were built for small scale industries, toilet facilities were created in public places, and traditional crematoria were replaced with electric crematoria. However, society failed to appreciate the good work.”

He adds that the main reason was that the river continued to get more polluted even with the new facilities as the rate of pollution increase was much higher than the rate at which sewage was intercepted and treated. Moreover, many STPs worked way below its capacity because of poor maintenance and lack of electricity to run the pumps.

In 2009, the Government of India set up the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) with the Prime Minister as its chairperson. Under NGRBA, the entire river basin, and not just the cities it passes, came under scrutiny and project planning.

However, the pace of work has been extremely slow and here was little impact on water quality in the Ganga.

Experts have also pointed to the absence of institutional level, long-term planning and gaps in understanding systemic weaknesses in waste management and environmental monitoring and regulation as some of the root causes for failure. Poor planning shows in insufficient capacity building and the way investments have been prioritized. Lastly, with poor stakeholder management there has been little public awareness and support for these projects.

Must-dos for Program Success
Political and administrative will: Mr.Modi has displayed his commitment; he has renamed the ministry as Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, and appointed Ms. Uma Bharti as the minister. He has emphasized upon time-bound, swift action to stop pollution of the Ganga. This political will needs to have the backing of the administrative machinery to plan, implement, and monitor progress.

100 percent interception and treatment of effluent: Setting up STPs is only one part of the solution. Experts have been pointing out that most of the 50 cities that the river passes do not have uninterrupted sewage lines that connect to STPs. Open drains are still a common sight. Water quality in the Ganga cannot improve unless all the domestic and industrial waste is treated before it falls into the river. Plus the pace of this work must exceed the generation of waste. “Doing this is in the domain of modern technology for waste water interception and treatment, finding the money to pay for it, and the administrative will to implement it. It’s an extremely challenging task,” remarks Mr. Pandit.

Strict enforcement of the law: Polluting factories must face the consequences of their actions. State governments must enforce the law strictly; penalize errant factories and publicize their names. According to recent media reports, 700 factories have recently been served notices.

People’s participation: Cleaning the Ganga appeals to most Indians at an emotional level. The government and civic agencies must work with people through religious and civic groups to reach out, create awareness, and seek their participation in the cleaning Ganga program.

Improve the management of STPs: Investment decisions regarding STPs must factor in not just the initial capital expenditure but the high running costs. The design and development of an STP must take into account the expected future load and accordingly plan the infrastructure. The STP management also needs to take proactive action to ensure the health and environment safety concerns of its STP workers.

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