Meghna Malhotra

Sanitation Changemaker

Leaving No One Behind

Meghna Malhotra is Deputy Director at Urban Management Centre (UMC). She has extensive experience in urban governance and management across health, water, and sanitation. She holds a master's degree in environmental planning and a bachelor's degree in architecture.

The World Health Organisation posed a question in 2006 that has stayed with Meghna ever since: “Why do we keep treating people for illnesses and send them back to the conditions that created the illness in the first place.” Having worked at the intersection of health and WASH, she strongly feels that until we ensure sanitation for all, we cannot achieve health for all.

On the topic of alternative livelihoods, during a meeting with sanitation workers, one of them said, “Kya aap humsein yeh kaam bhi cheen loge”? (Will you take away even this work from us?). This question jolted Meghna into remembering how sanitation workers are alienated from mainstream sectors, making the idea of losing their jobs scary. Each time she heard of an accident or workers without PPEs, it was a distressing motivator of the immense work ahead towards ensuring sanitation worker safety.

Meghna has led UMC’s partnership with the Government of Odisha to implement the Garima Scheme --- a comprehensive scheme targetting safety and dignity for sanitation work --- alongside supporting the Deendayal Antyoday Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM).

Meghna believes that for inclusive sanitation services, all sections of the city must be covered, including the urban poor, women, trans persons, and other under-served communities. Involving diverse citizen voices in design and maintenance encourages ownership and the payment of taxes/fees required to maintain these services.

At UMC, Meghna focuses on granularly approaching the process of achieving ODF status in informal settlements in cities, which ultimately helps shape perspectives across the country. UMC’s efforts have played a key role in impacting policy design over the last two decades. Before the national launch of SBM-Urban, they supported the Gujarat government in preparing an ODF policy for the state.

Through her determination to focus on change at the micro-scale, Meghna has been able to see a trickle-up effect where states are inspired by the work she is engaged in, causing a macro-level difference. Meghna’s commitment to inclusivity is inspiring in many ways.