Lighthouses are beacons of light that provide guidance for safe passage to sailors, symbolising hope and security. As the name suggests, the Lighthouse Initiative will develop 75 model ODF Plus blocks that having covered all components of ODF Plus will serve as a learning lab, providing guidance and inspiration to other villages to enable them to achieve ODF Plus status at speed and scale.
The unique initiative – a part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence; was launched in the national capital on July 29, 2022 by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, in collaboration with India Sanitation Coalition (ISC) at FICCI (Federation of Indian Chamber Commerce and Industry).
In her keynote address, Smt. Vini Mahajan, Secretary DDWS said, “We are standing at the cusp of transformative change and what a huge opportunity we have before us. It’s not always that you believe that you can transform rural India. But we believe that today and we believe it for a very good reason.”
She added that the government has been working for around 2 years on SBM-G Phase II, which has the target of sustaining the ODF status and ensuring that arrangements are in place for solid and liquid waste management in all the villages of the country. The project, she added is backed by adequate funds, knowledge, and the right set of partners. “It is the gram panchayats, block panchayats and the Zila panchayats who have to take the lead in not just understanding and planning for it but also to assist in creating the required assets which are economically viable and technologically feasible.”
Urging corporates to come forward to assist the sector, Smt. Mahajan highlighted that there are immense opportunities for the private sector. “We are looking at quick deliverables and very ambitious timelines. We are not looking at corporates for funding the assets, but we are seeking their energy, time, and commitment. With these, we can bring about transformative change,” she added.
Sh. Sunil Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India said that so far, we have been working with the departmental framework including the centre, the states and the districts. This needs to change so that a collector at the district level, is not looked upon as a one-stop solution. We have now laid the foundation for a strong local government unit to make our villages clean and green,” he added.
Sh. Kumar further stated that the Government in collaboration with India Sanitation Coalition and the Corporate sector is taking up initiatives to make 75 lighthouse blocks, and all of these would require various strategies and models. He reiterated that people are ready to pay for the services if they are assured of getting good services delivered to them, even in rural areas. “We must have service level benchmarks and the new assets must run as per the service level standards. The consumers should also be aware of these service level standards,” he added.
Sh. Kumar stated that we must raise the awareness level of not just the departmental functionaries and panchayats, but also of the end-users. If there is complete clarity on these, then we will find that the issue of sustainability will be addressed to a large extent.
He said that the government has adopted 9 themes and all the panchayats in India should work around these themes which will lead to poverty-free and healthy villages; child-friendly villages; water sufficient villages; clean and green villages; etc. “Based on these 9 themes, in accordance with the SDGs, the gram panchayats need to adopt 2 or 3 of these for priority action in the first 2 years.”
Sh. Arun Baroka, Special Secretary, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India said, “Private sector had played a critical role in making India ODF and it is incumbent upon them to support the ODF Plus Mission. The ODF Plus mission is a reflection of the Government of India’s commitment to improve the quality of life of rural people and of its working paradigm – ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Prayas.’
Lighthouse projects have the main purpose of providing direction so that one travels in the right direction, uses right approaches and the goal is achieved. They are intended to demonstrate responsive and cutting-edge technology, community ownership, management and maintenance and a paradigm for cost sharing and co-financing.
The hallmark of light house projects will be the value for money, the return on investment and the pragmatic management arrangements hitherto used by the private sector. Light house projects will be a true reflection of the management acumen and capability of private sector. They will be used as Action Labs where our PRIs, sanitation workers, officers can go for immersion and get better understanding of management approaches, technical options, financing models, implementation and maintenance models.
“We believe in scale; we believe in speed and we are committed to sustainability of investments and benefits. We would want the private sector to imbibe these values as they partner with us on this very important initiative,” Mr. Baroka said.
In a detailed presentation, he outlined the need for collaboration, the key deliverables, institutional arrangement, results already achieved in selected districts, capacity building at scale, availability of SLWM related products; the management mechanism for LHI and the immediate priorities for States and the corporate sector.
Ms Naina Lal Kidwai, Chair, India Sanitation Coalition, said that Swachh Bharat Mission has saved millions of lives and made a lasting impact on health, environment, household income and savings, inclusiveness for senior citizens and the differently abled, and safety and dignity for women. “The current priority of the mission is to sustain ODF behaviours and ensure that people continue to use and maintain their toilets,” she added.
She further mentioned that, in their experience, collaborations of government, grassroot organisations and corporates have led to sustainable and highly successful outcomes in water and sanitation and they need to be replicated across the country.
Ms Natasha Patel, CEO, of India Sanitation Coalition, delivering the welcome address said that it was the first time that so many corporates and the government were coming together to provide support for sustainable water and sanitation.
Best practice models in water and sanitation across rural India were presented by States and Corporates. The States that will be implementing the Lighthouse Initiative are: Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana and West Bengal.
Around 150 participants from Government of India, state governments, corporate groups and development partners involved in the sanitation sector participated in the event.