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Why toilets remain aspirational for the urban poor despite subsidies



Swachh Bharat Programme for Urban Areas

A 65 per cent shortfall in subsidies is affecting Maharashtra’s push to ensure a toilet in every urban household under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the nationwide cleanliness campaign, according to a study by CEPT University, Gujarat.

The cost of building a basic toilet with water and a septic tank in Maharashtra is estimated to be around Rs 35,000. Under the Swachh Bharat Programme for Urban Areas (SBPUA), the Centre provides a subsidy of Rs 4,000 per household. This is supplemented by a state subsidy of Rs 8,000.

The total subisidy extended to households thus is Rs 12,000 — only 35 per cent of the construction cost.

To increase the number of individual household toilets, it is important to ensure that additional finance be available through credit options, the study said.

Micro-finance institutions (MFIs) have traditionally led the way in sanitation credit, largely in rural areas, but commercial and cooperative sector banks, credit societies and housing finance institutions (HFIs) also need to recognise it as a viable lending stream, said the study.

In 2015-16, 10.5 per cent of urban households practised open defecation; 14.9 per cent used toilets where waste comes into contact with humans and 6.1 per cent used shared facilities, according to the National Family Health Survey data of 2015-16.

Part of the SMBUA’s objective is increasing the coverage of households with individual toilets and ensuring that waste is safely and properly managed. Shared facilities, whilst used by over 761 million people globally and an improvement on open defecation, are not an acceptable alternative to individual household latrines.

Improving sanitation levels is a key factor in reducing the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and hepatitis A. For children under five, diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death.

CEPT conducted a survey in two cities of Maharashtra: Sinnar, around 30 km from Nashik, and Wai, 85 km from Pune. The survey showed that 30 per cent of households in Wai and 35 per cent in Sinnar do not have toilets. But over 80 per cent were keen to install a toilet if they could overcome financial and space constraints.

In Sinnar, seven per cent of the total population of 65,000 lives in slums (4,500) and lacks access to individual toilets. In Wai, 97 per cent of the total population of 339,500 owns a home, but many of them share community toilets built by the government and run by a local NGO.

“Everyone in our house resorts to open defecation,” said a respondent. “Our relatives do not visit us because of this. We feel it is very important to have a toilet and are willing to take a loan to build one.”

Only 50 per cent of potential applicants in Sinnar and 12 per cent in Wai have actually applied for the SMBUA scheme despite the demand for toilets and the local government’s outreach to create awareness. Cost was cited as one of the main reasons for this gap.

Those who build toilets under the scheme get 50 per cent of the subsidies at the start of the project and the remaining on completion. This means sanitation credit is needed to not only plug the funding gap but also to support construction costs.

Local municipal councils in Wai and Sinnar provide an additional Rs 5,000 — bringing the total subsidy to Rs 17,000 — but even with this additional sum, only 48 per cent of the total cost gets covered.

Building a toilet is perceived as an “aspirational” project: Once households decided to build a toilet, they usually add bathing facilities and upgraded fixtures to make the exercise worthwhile, the study found. This usually took the total cost to Rs 45,000, necessitating a loan.

“We had to walk a long distance to reach community toilets [and] it is not possible to use these at night,” said one respondent. “We have left our home and moved to a rented house with a toilet because we cannot afford to spend Rs 40,000-45,000 at once. We pay a rent of Rs 3,000 instead.”

Commercial and cooperative banks and credit cooperative societies in Wai and Sinnar have no experience providing loans for sanitation projects. But cooperative societies were found to be more willing to explore sanitation finance options, lending unsecured amounts up to Rs 50,000 with a four- to five-year payment model, according to the study.

Housing finance companies did offer home improvement loans in both cities at competitive rates but their demand for documentation, insurance and processing fees intimidated the target socio-economic group. Also, most people in this group are not in a position to offer the bank the detailed documentation required for loans.

Additionally, MFIs, who tend to have the most experience in lending to this sector, had limited presence in the two cities (with the exception of one, Grameen Koota, in Sinnar). Self-help groups (SHGs) in both Wai and Sinnar found banks reluctant to lend to them due to earlier repayment delays.

Empowering SHGs to approach financial institutions might be a workable strategy, said the study. Building on their established links with banks and leveraging support from urban councils and different government programmes, this approach can be replicated across other cities and states.

Lenders who do mobilise resources for sanitation credit, however, can benefit from an increased client base, the study suggested.

Banks can also include sanitation loans under the Priority Sector Lending (PSL) category. This helps banks meet Reserve Bank of India requirements on lending 40 per cent of their total loan amounts to sectors that boost development in agriculture, micro credits, education, social housing and so on.

Access to finance may remain an issue even after lenders come forward to extend sanitation credit, especially because such loans are seen as a “non-income generating activity” — a particular problem for MFIs under current RBI regulations. Currently 50 per cent of the total aggregated loans disbursed by MFIs has to be used on an income-generating venture.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Tish Sanghera is a writer and researcher. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at [email protected])



The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations




Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.



Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.




Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.