New Delhi: On October 2, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that rural India was open defecation free, implying that every household now had access to a toilet. The claim was based on the Swachh Bharat mission database which showed that rural India had achieved 100% toilet coverage.
But, a government report has now called into question the authenticity of this database. According to the National Statistical Office’s (NSO) ‘Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition in India’ report, 29% of rural households and 4% of urban households do not have access to toilets.
The survey’s reference point is October 2018. At that time, according to the Swachh Bharat Mission database, 95% of households in the country had access to toilets and 25 states and union territories had been declared open defecation free. But, the survey contradicts this data as it has found that only 71% of households had access to a toilet at around the same time.
The survey has found households lacking toilets even in states which had been declared open defecation free prior to the survey.
For instance, Andhra Pradesh was declared open defecation free in June 2018. But, the NSO survey found that 22% of surveyed households do not have access to a toilet.
Maharashtra which was declared open defecation free in April 2018, was also found to be lacking toilets. According to the NSO, 22% households lacked access to toilets.
Gujarat was declared open defecation free in October 2017. But the survey reported that 24% of households did not have access to toilets in the state.
Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had also raised questions about the Gujarat government’s claim about the state being open defecation free. A survey that it conducted in 8 districts, found that 30% of households did not have access to toilets.
Now, according to the survey, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand are the worst-performing states with 50%, 48% and 41% households respectively not having any access to a toilet.
The report is based on a survey of around 9,000 households across the country which was conducted last year between July and December.
According to the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) database, more than 10 crore toilets have been built in the country since October 2, 2014, when the scheme was launched.
The government has claimed that every household in rural India now has access to a toilet. But, according to the NSO survey, only 63% of households has access to a toilet which is for their exclusive use.
The survey also found that only 17% of rural households received benefits for building toilets. Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, all households who build a toilet receive financial benefits.
Business Standard has also reported that the data sets presented in the NSO’s report were the cause of a ‘disagreement’ between the statistical body and the government which led to a six-month delay in its publication.
In one of the meetings, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation had allegedly said that the survey findings, with regards to the proportion of households with access to a toilet, ‘was on the lower side’ and needed to be re-examined.
The ministry also said that the data for the proportion of households which did not receive benefits under the sanitary schemes ‘was on the higher side’.
Now, the NSO data has once again put the government’s claim, that rural India is open defecation free, under the spotlight. The claim is based on its SBM database. The Wire has reported in the past that this database is not exactly trustworthy.
For one, a village can be shown to be open defecation free in the database based on an unverified claim on paper by the village pradhan. The levels of verification that are needed as per the SBM guidelines were not necessarily followed in the rush to declare India open defecation free.
It was also found that as the date that India was supposed to be declared ODF approached, large numbers of villages were declared and verified open defecation free.
For instance, in the four days leading up to October 2, Odisha verified more villages than it had done in the whole of 2018-19.
The Wire also found that targets in UP were lowered so that they would become more achievable.
#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.