To draw lessons from the experience of RSMs and PCs operating in various states, and to formulate sustainable and replicable designs for the future, UNICEF commissioned “TARU Leading Rural Sanitary Marts and Production Centres – An Evaluation. This paper presents the results of an evaluation study of Rural Sanitary Marts (RSMs) and Production Centres (PCs) in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in 1999. UNICEF had supported the RSM and PC initiative in these states since 1991. The key issue that was analysed by the study was the ability of RSMs and PCs to promote affordable toilets in rural areas in a financially sustainable manner.
The study highlights that the primary barriers to household toilet investment related to finances and awareness. The secondary barriers such as access to masons, materials and advice became a concern only after the investment decision had been made. However, RSMs were designed to address the latter and, according to the study, proved inadequately equipped to address the primary concerns of households. It also revealed that due to small sample and limited geographical coverage in Kerala and Rajasthan constrained a state-wide situation analysis and a comparison with other states. Further, a lack of systematic time-series records and reluctance of RSMs and PCs to share available financial data hindered a comprehensive financial analysis. But on the other hand RSMs in Almora, Uttar Pradesh (now in the state of Uttaranchal) showed outstanding performance by understanding the socio-economic conditions that prevailed in the region. While, the West Bengal experience shows how a small subsidy accompanied by promotional efforts can be leveraged to accelerate sanitation coverage and strengthen RSM finances.
This study concluded that the business-as-usual scenario for RSMs was not an option; radical change was necessary. Table 2 lists some of the “parameters of sustainability” that were repeatedly highlighted in the study. If followed, these parameters can enable RSMs to become more viable.