600 million people in India still practice open defecation


The Modi Government is all set to celebrate the successful completion of three years through various progra-mmes. But the policies of the government, and its strategy of perform, reform and transform are to be evaluated. The very first policy in the index of evaluation is the Open Defecation Free scheme, under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the flagship scheme of the govern-ment. One billion people worldwide still practice “open defecation.” India alone has an estimated 600 million people defecating openly, according to a study by the United Nations, accounting for more open defecation than any other country in the world. When the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched on October 2, 2014, only around four out of ten rural households (41.9%) in the country had access to toilet within their household. For achieving the objective of universal access to toilets by 2019, the government has had set the ambitious target of constructing close to 10 crore toilets in a span of five years.
Since its launch in 2014, 2.4 crore toilets have been constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission and 15.04 lakh under MNREGA across rural India. The rural household toilet coverage has increased from 42% at the start of Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin to 55.34%. The figures on the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin look impressive on paper, but are they true or just on paper? While the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin guidelines clearly envisage a yearly, country-wide, independent third-party assessment of the sanitation status of rural areas, there has been no independent monitoring so far. The World Bank, which had promised a loan of $1.5 billion for Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin the rural arm of the mission has not released the first instalment which was due in July 2016 because India has not fulfilled the condition of conducting and announcing results of an independent verification survey. One recent case highlights the serious level of corruption in the “Clean India” scheme. On November 1, 2016, Modi congratulated representatives of Mungeli and Dhamtari districts in Chhattisgarh province for achieving open defecation free (ODF) area status. According to the central government’s definition, “ODF is the termination of faecal-oral transmission, defined by – a) no visible faeces found in the environment/village; and b) every household as well as public/community institutions using safe technology option for disposal of faeces.” According to a government checklist, to be declared ODF, an area must not only have toilets with access to water but also ensure that all residents actually use these facilities.
An investigative team of journalists from The Indian Express visited the celebrated districts of Mungeli and Dhamtari in December 2016.  They found that the Modi government’s claims of the area having achieved 100% ODF status for this area are demonstrably false. The playground of Government Higher Secondary School in Amdi, Dhamtari district is used as an open toilet by the local residents. Imagine the playground of a school where hundreds of people relieve themselves. “The children complain of the smell, and imagine the flies that come into their food,” school principal SR Tejaswi told Indian Express.
Undoubtedly, the Modi government has undertaken a huge task by promising to eliminate open defecation. The task is challenging because apart from meeting the massive infrastructure deficit, the government also needs to induce a behavioural change among the masses. Considering this, it would be safe to say that the Modi government has made reasonable progress under the Swachh Bharat Mission. However, sustaining the efforts made by the government and maintaining the public participation would be important in the coming months. The success of this mission hinges on how well people and the government are able to synchronize their efforts.


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