Even as Questions Remain, Modi Declares Rural India Open Defecation Free

Despite the announcement of the milestone on Gandhi Jayanti, crucial levels of verification have not been carried out in large parts of the country.

New Delhi: On Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared rural India open defecation free (ODF).

“People of rural India have announced themselves open-defecation free today. They have used self-inspiration, self-will and co-operation to achieve this through the Swachh Bharat Mission,” he said.

Modi said that under his government, conversations about toilets and cleanliness have become mainstream. “We changed the narrative. People used to hesitate in talking about toilets. Now, it is a part of conversation from Bollywood to the field of sports,” he said.

“In 60 months, we have provided toilets to over 60 crore people by constructing over 11 crore toilets. The world is amazed on hearing this,” he said, emphasising that women who faced significant risks due to the lack of toilets now have access.

Also read: The Claim That Rural India is ‘Open-Defecation Free’ is Blatant Exaggeration

The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched five year ago on October 2 with the aim of achieving an ODF India by 2019. This target was to be achieved, the government said, by ensuring that each household in India had access to a toilet. The shortfall, it said, will be met by building over 10 crore toilets in the next five years.

At the time, 62% of households in the country were defecating in the open as they lacked access to toilets, according to the mission’s data. As per Census 2011, 70% of rural households did not own a toilet. Now, according to the SBM database, 100% households in India have access to toilets. 

Each of the almost 6 lakh villages in the country and all the 699 districts have been declared ODF by the SBM database. In all, now more than 16 crore households now have access to a toilet – including the households which had access at the time SBM was launched.

But, questions remain over the veracity of the numbers contained in the database itself, as The Wire has reported. For instance, the crucial levels of verification have not been carried out in large parts of the country.

Also read: Six Charts Show That India Is Not Yet Open Defecation Free

Even in cases where verification has been carried out, according to the database, its authenticity remains in question. In Odisha, for example, over 13,000 villages were shown as verified in just four days leading up to October 2. To put this in perspective, the state had verified 11,679 villages in 2018-19.

Odisha remains laggard in other areas as well: It has not carried out second level of verification in even a single village. According to SBM guidelines, second level of verification is key to ensure the sustainability of ODF status. The original BIMARU states have also underperformed, according to the government’s own data.

Despite the database reflecting 100% ODF status in rural India, a lot needs to be done as Nikhil Srivastav and Nazar Khalid pointed out in The Wire earlier today. 

In his speech, Modi also recognised that the job is not yet over. “This is only a milestone. We have built toilets. But we also have to ensure that there is proper and sustained use of these toilets,” he said.

 #Grit is an initiative of The Wire dedicated to the coverage of manual scavenging and sanitation and their linkages with caste, gender, policy and apathy.