“Compressed demand”: How Uttar Pradesh is making sure rural sanitation subsidies for toilets go to the most needy


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When the “Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin” (SBM-G) was launched in October 2014 with the goal of making rural India free from open defecation by 2019, it gave states and districts more flexibility than previous national sanitation programs had. This led to a successful experiment in Uttar Pradesh called “demand compression”.

The state was preparing to use a tried-and-tested triggering process, where trained motivators concentrate their efforts on a community to help improve their understanding of safe sanitation and stimulate demand for toilets in rural communities where open defecation is still common. However, they faced a problem. If all the households that were eligible for government subsidies would actually claim them, funds would soon run out. With an estimated 15 million households across Uttar Pradesh without a toilet and eligible for a government subsidy of around $200, about $3 billion would be needed.

Household toilet constructed from own resources

Offering a government subsidy is an important part of the “triggering” process since it helps get households in rural communities to want a toilet. However, a sudden surge in toilet demand could overwhelm the capacity to process subsidy payments within a reasonable timeframe, which would have undermined the effort to mobilize communities and trigger toilet demand.

Mr. Vijay Kiran Anand, district magistrate in the district of Bijnor, was quick to realize that the flexibility of the SBM-G guidelines gave him an opportunity to try something called “demand compression”. This uses socioeconomic household surveys to narrow down the number of households eligible for a subsidy before starting the triggering process, by determining who genuinely could not afford to construct a toilet without financial help.

The teams quickly found that their list of eligible households – based on 2012 household survey data – needed updating, as some of the neediest households did not qualify for a subsidy while many households that were on the eligible list clearly had the resources to construct a toilet themselves.

Assessing economic status of households: Door-to-Door Survey

The teams sought consensus in the community on which households would not have the means to build a toilet without a subsidy. This resulted in taking wealthier households – such as those which owned two-story houses, significant amounts of land, a car or a tractor – off the list, and offering subsidies only to the very poor, widows, and people with disabilities.

This process was termed “demand compression”, as it effectively compresses the demand for subsidies and targets it to those who truly are in need. It was an arduous task, requiring both detailed surveys, perseverance and negotiation skills. The initial lists were verified twice: first cross-checked with the national Ministry’s database, then sent back to the communities to ensure that nobody in genuine need had been left out. The final list was formally approved by the Village Panchayat and then by the District Sanitation Committee, who is responsible for the program implementation. In Bijnor District, this approach translated into 40% fewer households being eligible for a subsidy. Compressing the toilet demand by 100,000 people in Bijnor reduced the district’s outlay on subsidies by around $20 million, monies which were made available to poor households in other districts.

There was some local skepticism that demand compression would work. Mrs. Kusum, the president of the village of Rashidpur – where the initial count of 180 eligible households had been reduced to 80 – initially expected that the 100 excluded households would not want to construct a toilet. But she was surprised.

“When the eligible households initiated the toilet construction following the triggering process, the households who were compressed out also came up and started the toilet construction process – a competition of sorts was created and we were able to make our village open defecation free within two months,” she said.

The village has success stories from both sides. Ms. Atarkali, an old widow who was left out in the initial approved list of eligible households, later received a subsidy to construct her toilet and is now an active member of the village Nigrani Samiti (sanitation committee). Meanwhile, Mr. Arvind Kumar – a relatively well-off villager who was initially eligible for a subsidy but taken off the list – said: “The process made me realize that the benefit of the SBM-G scheme should go to the poor and needy first.”

When they realized how cost-effective the “compressed demand” was in Bijnor, other district magistrates in Uttar Pradesh adopted the strategy. They achieved varying levels of compression, depending on the district’s number of poor people. The eligibility list was shortened by around 40% in the relatively prosperous western district of Meerut, for example, but only by around 20% in the poorer eastern district of Varanasi. An alternative strategy, pioneered with success in the district of Shamli, was to keep more households on the list but reduce the level of subsidy to about $160.

Mr. Anand, who pioneered the strategy in Bijnor, has since been appointed the statewide mission director of SBM-G and is currently scaling up the approach in other districts. As Mr. Arvind Kumar, who constructed a toilet in Rashidpur with his own money, puts it: “Our village would not have achieved open defecation-free status in two months without the adoption of the compressed sanitation demand strategy”.

Community Engagement in Ending Open Defecation

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Arun Kumar Dobhal

Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist, The World Bank Water Global Practice

bhawna M Vajpai
October 29, 2017

Good article and glad to know about much needed initiative . interested to know if demand compression was limited to toilet subsidy or would also affect other Government entitlement linked with economic status of rural HHs.

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Ms. Bhawna,The blog refers to the household sanitation demand compression to ensure that the available rural household toilet sanitation subsidies reach the most needy. This process is not affecting other government entitlement schemes.

INDIA Krishna murthy
October 29, 2017

Good. This demand compression will reduce the size of the work and would be easy for the implementer to achieve the goal of ODF.

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Mr. Krishna Murthy,

Thanks. Yes, this concept does limit the number of needy beneficiaries for availing subsidies, but the field level interventions continue for the entire village. Other community engagement and IEC and BCC activities on sanitation continue with all the households in the village towards making it ODF.

October 30, 2017

A point that is well taken. The aspect of demand compression is not confined to U.P but is applicable in all areas where persistent awareness generation creates a demand far more than the estimated. It also need not necessarily be due to inclusion of APL families. A similar situation arose in Viralipatti, pudukkottai district, Tamil Nadu where demand and willingness to construct emerged for 356 households, all BPL due to the persistent awareness and education supported by CSR of Va Tech Wabag and CESTADS. The district administration took more than 6 months to accord Administrative Sanction as it was a sudden spike and not budgeted. I think this is one aspect we need to carefully look at during demand management during campaign mode of operations and could be looked at as demand absorption rate or demand translation rate which is backed by financial capacity to construct toilets. What could definitely be thought of in such situations of rapid demand generation is to create a system of issue of Govt. I Owe You type of document which could be used as financial collateral for building toilets.what actually works in reality is still to be seen and the role of NGOs and activists in Sustaining the demand cannot be underestimated at any point of time.
Dr. R. Sujatha

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Dr. Sujatha,

Thanks for your observation and sharing your experience. Yes, this concept is not limited to APL families. Any household who has the wherewithal to construct a toilet from its own resources can be tapped.

Your suggestion of linking the toilet demand absorption with financial capacity of the administration is welcome. But generally, we see a disconnect between these two due to fund flow and other operational issues.
Civil society does play a major role in creating sanitation demand. It is up to the states for their level of engagement in the sanitation program.

October 30, 2017

Very well explained the positive environment created in Uttar Pradesh

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Ms. Anjali,Thank you for your appreciation.

Anupam Kumar Singh
October 30, 2017

The author Mr Dobhal has given a comprehensive assessment on rural toilet mission initiated as part of Swatchch Bharat- a Government of India program. Although he talks about a successes story in most backward part of Uttar Pradesh however lots of apprehensions still exists in other parts of the same state. Perhaps this Best management practice may be the result of continuous persuasion and awareness creation among rural folks. Therefore local authorities, state government machinery, and world bank are to be congratulated for their efforts. I wish Mr Dobhal all the best for possible replication in larger rural areas of UP and India. My best wishes for him and the team.

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Mr. Anupam,

Thanks for your observations. Yes, UP being the most populous state with 75 districts, has varying complexities in the demographics and economic profiles across the state. The Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin envisages the continuous engagement of the state governments with the rural communities for behaviour change for constructing and more importantly, using the constructed toilets. Behavior change communication activities at the community/user level are an integral part of the SBM-G. The Government of UP is taking up this compressed demand concept across the state while focusing on the awareness and motivation activities for sanitation at the field level.

Sanjay Sarin
October 30, 2017

Very good article

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Mr. Sanjay,Thank you.

October 30, 2017

Excellent article dear Arun. I am really happy to know about lot of initiatives taking place...

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Mr. K. K. Pandey,

Thank you for appreciating the blog.

November 04, 2017

Dear Sir,
Your article came as a whiff, sorry, a cyclone of fresh air of what could be achieved under SBM if people are prepared to think differently and also follow it up upto the implementation level. It is such success stories which would motivate other districts and other states. Hats off to the District Magistrate.I wish we had such dynamic district magistrates and at least a few far more senior officials who are prepared to open their minds.

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Mr. Ganapathy,Thank you for your observations. Yes, this compressed demand approach is certainly an innovative approach for bridging the implementation and funding issues under SBM-G. Hope the blog stimulates concerned officials across states for suitable adaptation, if needed.

November 05, 2017

Congratulations for writing this feel good article, Arun! It is reinforcing the potential of planning with people as stakeholders, and perhaps they are the real stakeowners. It is a win-win case documentation for reducing the hand-me-down implementation mode by governments, as well as for promoting social responsibility of the people. All the Best!

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Ms. Akila,Thanks for your compliments. Yes, this is the potential of the engaging deep and planning with the communities and letting them decide as the government facilitates the implementation process of SBM-G delivery.

Prof. Meenakshi Mehan
November 05, 2017

Very well explained article, great efforts being put in place by state government and Mr Arun from World Bank, cheers to WASH team.

Arun Kumar Dobhal
November 07, 2017

Dear Prof. Mehan,Thanks for your compliments.

suresh Chnadra khanduri
November 07, 2017

its really a nice thing to learn ...thanks Arun Doval ji....many innovative approaches have came up in different regions ....it reminds of of DC of Nadia district in West Bengal, wherein the ratri-sivir and mobilizing support of all the grassroots level workers along with other community institutions made the district ODF within a record time period.

Putheri Babu K .Y.
November 08, 2017

Dear Sir
Nice to learn your initiative. Under your dynamic leadership UP-SBM will definitively reach new heights.

V.K Sinha
November 13, 2017

Excellent article, Thanks for sharing. The article gave new dimension for solving the sanitation problem.

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May 07, 2018

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