Although Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) has sent India on a toilet construction spree, 51.6% of households across the country did not use an improved sanitation facility – a system that separates human excreta from human contact – between January 2015 and December 2016.
“Brother and Sisters, we are living in 21st century. Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? Narendra Modi said in his first Independence Day address as prime minister in 2014.
Whether dignity of women is not our collective responsibility? Can’t we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?”
Household toilet availability has improved from 41.93% in 2014 to 63.98% in 2017, and Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Kerala have achieved 100% open defecation-free status, data from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation shows (as of May 22). However, almost all the progress reported by the ministry has been through no third-party verification, due to which the World Bank is holding off a $1.5 billion loan it had promised.
As the BJP government completes three years in office this week, IndiaSpend is analysing five of its key electoral promises – on employment, Swachh Bharat, roads, access to electricity and terrorism. In the second part today, we look at how the status of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
No independent monitoring
While 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, The Economic Times reported in January.
It has rated the overall implementation progress of the programme as “moderately unsatisfactory.”
Since 2014, 40 million household latrines have been constructed. Between May 1 and May 21, a total of 489,710 individual household latrines were constructed across the country, data from the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin website shows. That’s an average of nearly 25,000 toilets constructed per day.
Gram panchayats have self-declared 193,081 villages to be open-defecation free, but 53.9% of these have not been verified, according to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, which is responsible for Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin, which accounts for 85% of Swachh Bharat Mission’s budget. (Data accessed on May 22).
Villages are considered “open defecation-free” when no faeces are openly visible and every household and public or community institution uses safe technology to dispose of faeces in such a way that there is no contamination of surface soil, groundwater or surface water; excreta is inaccessible to flies or animals, with no manual handling of fresh excreta; and there is no odour or unsightly conditions.
Usually, an “open-defecation free village” declaration is made by the village or gram panchayat. The state government is supposed to carry out a first verification within three months and a second verification around six months after the self-declaration.
Toilets built vs used
As of 2016, 36.7% of rural households and 70.3% of urban households – 48.4% of households overall – used improved sanitation facility, data from the National Family Health Survey 4, which was conducted between January 2015 and December 2016, shows. A majority, 51.6%, did not.
Improved sanitation facility means having a system that separates human excreta from human contact which includes piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine, etc.
About 47% of those who defecated in the open said they did so because it was pleasant, convenient and comfortable, a 2014 survey of 3,200 households in five states with the highest rates of open defecation found. Among households that had built a latrine, 40% had at least one family member defecating in the open, the study conducted by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics, a non-profit research institution, found.
“Programmes must concentrate on behaviour change and promoting latrine use, rather than building latrines,” the authors noted. “Although building latrines could be part of a successful policy package, little will be accomplished by planning to build latrines that will go unused.”
Indians’ preference for open defecation has to do with the practice of untouchability and beliefs about purity, according to this 2017 study by the same institute.
Through quantitative and qualitative studies, they found people considered having and using pit latrines impure and polluting. “Open defecation, in contrast, is seen as promoting purity and strength, particularly by men, who typically decide how money is spent in rural households,” the study found.
Information, education and communication neglected
Since the focus of Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin is on behaviour change, the guidelines require that 8% of the funds be allocated for information, education and communication activities.
During the 2016-’17 financial year, 1% of the total expenditure had been made on information, education and communication up to January, according to Accountability Initiative’s budget brief. In contrast, 98% of the funds had been spent on construction of toilets in individual households.
Unreliable beneficiary data
Duplicate entries, ghost beneficiaries and missing households were the first stumbling block that researchers from the Accountability Initiative of the Centre for Policy Research faced while tracking beneficiaries of the government’s sanitation interventions across 7,500 households in 10 districts and five states in a December 2015 study.
Eventually, they studied 1,500 households that they could identify from the list. They found that a third of the households that government records showed as having achieved “sanitation status” actually had toilets, while 36% that had constructed toilets said these were unusable.
Of the households with a latrine which had at least one member of the family defecating in the open, the most common reasons cited were absence of water and the pit being too small.
Further, 40% of those who had applied for money from the government to build toilets reported not receiving it.
Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban Progress also slow
As many as 3.1 million (88%) household toilets have been built in urban areas, against a target of 3.5 million for 2017-’18, according to the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban website. Also, 115,786 (56%) community toilets have been built against a target of 204,000.
Yet, only 36.8% wards in urban areas reported a proper liquid-waste disposal system for community and public toilets, according to the 2016 Swachhta Status Report.
The focus of Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban is slowly shifting from construction of toilets to solid waste management, the Accountability Initiative’s January 2017 analysis of the programme’s budget noted.
Solid waste management includes segregating waste at source; collecting, transporting and storing waste; as well as processing, treating and finally disposing of it.
In 2015-’16, 25% of the total money released was for solid waste management and 70% for toilet construction; in 2016-’17, 45% of the money released was for solid waste management and 45% for toilet construction.
However, six states and union territories, including Gujarat, Assam and Kerala, are yet to receive any funds for solid waste management since the start of the programme, the study noted.
For the 2016-’17 financial year, 23 states and union territories were yet to receive any funds for solid waste management till January 18, the analysis noted.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.