Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan has been instrumental in changing the sanitation scenario in India. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s mission is problem that is not confined to just rural India. India has the world’s largest urban population. While implementation of total sanitation remains a huge challenge in rural India, there are some serious problems on the urban sanitation front which need to be tackled to make Swachh Bharat a success across India’s geography. Here are some major issues that are proving to be a roadblocks to fulfilling Urban India’s Swachh dreams.

Space Crunch

Urban metros and towns in India lack space. The task of constructing toilets in cities and towns with already limited space is an arduous one and urban civic bodies are often struggling to find enough space to build toilets. Especially in metros like Delhi, Pune and Mumbai, construction of individual household toilets is a big challenge due to the presence of numerous unauthorised colonies and slums.

Many of these households are not owned properties and are constructed in areas less than 120 square foot, thus eliminating any chance of a toilet being constructed in such households. The urban Indian population is also continuously on the rise, and is expected to add 500 million more by 2040, according to the United Nations, increasing the urban population to 830 million from the current 330 million.

Amidst this space crunch in urban India, where and how does the scenario of building toilets fit in? The Ministry of Urban Development has stressed on the building of more public toilets in cities so that people who do not have access to individual household toilets can access these. Building more public mobile toilets is presently a feasible solution to ensure that space crunch in urban spaces doesn’t force people to defecate in the open.

Lack of Funds

The Swachh Bharat Mission Urban is supposed to cost Rs. 62,000 crores, of which one-fourth will be borne by the Union Government and the rest by the state governments and the local municipal bodies. The last bit of the contribution remains the trickiest part, as municipal bodies often cite unavailability of funds. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi for example, was unable to begin work on any Swachh Bharat related projects last year, as their part of the financial contribution could not be provided on time. Another problem with the SBM (U) guidelines is that while Rs. 4,000 is provided to individual households for construction, there is no Central funding for public toilets.

Sewage Systems and Piped Water Supply

What could be worse than non-existent sewage systems? Outdated sewage systems which dump sewage directly to water bodies. Most Indian urban metros thrive on sewage systems which are constructed decades ago and still follow the pattern of carrying sewage directly to rivers or canals. 70 per cent of India’s urban sewage remains untreated. Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are more of bane than boons for India’s waste treatment initiatives, as 294 of India’s 816 STPs remain dysfunctional. Even regular water supply remains a distant pipe dream in urban India, as no Indian city provides 24×7 water supply to its residents. Only 49 per cent urban Indian households have access to piped water supply. Amidst outdated sewage systems and irregular piped water supply, the dream of a Swachh Bharat does dwindle down.


The sanitation challenges in urban India differ from the rural ones on several fronts. Problems of space, demographics, behaviour and finance are common to both urban and rural India but the nature of each of these problems differ as the habitations change from rural to urban. To ensure holistic success of Swachh Bharat, urban sanitation problems must be addressed during the tenure of Swachh Bharat to ensure total sanitation for all. Building of more public toilets and a proper solid waste management programme are the key issues which are to be tackled for the urban wing of Swachh Bharat to flourish.

One of the biggest problems the major urban spaces in India today face is outdated infrastructure, be it waste management or sewage. The rapid increase of slums and decrease in available spaces has also resulted in problems related to health and sanitation. More public toilets will ensure that a larger section of the urban population has access to sanitation facilities. The budget required to revamp urban India’s sewage and waste management systems can come only via public-private partnerships. 

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