Between 2012 and 2018, the number of rural households in India with toilets of their own rose sharply from 32% to 63%. In the same time period, 33% more households switched from cooking with firewood to cooking with gas.
The latest numbers come from a report on drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and housing conditions released by the National Statistical Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
With the Modi government at the helm since 2014, much of this improvement can be credited to its flagship schemes, the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
The survey of Indian households that forms the basis of the report was conducted between July and December 2018. But the report’s release was delayed by several months, according to the Business Standard. A companion report that showed consumer spending falling for the first time in four decades was not released, with the government terming it a “draft report”.
Scroll.in compiled data from the National Statistical Office reports dating back as far as 1973, in order to measure the Modi government’s performance – in the areas of sanitation, cooking fuel, drinking water, electricity and housing – against the performance of past governments.
The data for urban and rural households was compiled separately, and it threw into relief the differing pace of development in rural and urban India. While urban households have been acquiring amenities at a steady pace, rural households lag far behind, and the gap appears to be bridged only by government intervention.
The number of toilets in rural homes doubled
On October 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared rural India “open defecation free”, exactly five years after the launch of the government’s flagship scheme with that goal, the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. This declaration was based on the government claim that all rural households had access to toilets.
The NSO report indeed shows a doubling in the number of households with toilets of their own in rural India, from 32% to 63% between 2012 and 2018. The number of rural households with access to toilets – not necessarily their own – stood at 71%, which is impressive considering that it was 40.6% six years ago.
It is, however, not 100% rural coverage of household latrines, which would mean that all households had access to toilets, as the government claims.
The NSO report notes the possibility of a “respondent bias” in answers about access to latrines, because the previous questions in the survey asked about benefits received from government schemes.
“The respondents are not always truthful,” note Pravin Srivastava, the chief statistician of the government and Parameswaran Iyer, secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, writing in the Indian Express. The reason they give for this is behavioural economics: people tend to deny receiving benefit from a scheme in the hope of receiving the benefit again. “A genuine response based on a sense of nationalism is diminishing,” they observe.
Seventeen percent of rural respondents said that they had benefited from a government scheme in the preceding three years for the building of toilets, and nearly all of them said that the scheme they benefited from was the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan.
The government’s definition of “open defecation free” is based on the availability of household toilets, not on their actual use. Nearly all the respondents in the NSO survey said they regularly used the latrine they had access to. But an independent study found that 23% of people who owned latrines still preferred to defecate in the open.
A third of rural households began cooking with LPG
The number of households that switched to using liquified petroleum gas as their primary fuel for cooking food rose dramatically in rural India, from 15% in 2011-’12 to 48% in 2018, at a pace never seen before.
Urban LPG use also grew, but more linearly.
Sixty-one percent of all Indians use LPG now.
About 15% of rural respondents said they had received government benefits – mostly under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana – in the past three years, that helped them acquire an LPG connection.
Another way to measure the impact of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana would be to look at the rate of increase in rural LPG connections. The annual rate of increase was 1.75% between 2009 and 2011. At this rate, the rural LPG coverage would have been 27.25% by 2018, assuming a linear trend. It was, however, a much higher 48.3% – the additional 21% rise is most likely because of the LPG scheme of the Modi government.
An analysis of the scheme’s performance, however, showed that the sale of LPG cylinders was not rising as fast as the number of new connections, indicating that people were perhaps not replacing their cylinders once exhausted.
Access to drinking water did not improve much
There was an uptick in the number of rural households that had provision for drinking water within their dwelling area, from 46% in 2012 to 58% in 2018. Still, 11.5% of rural households had to travel farther than 200 metres for drinking water, more than double the percentage of urban households subjected to this inconvenience.
While overall access to drinking water has grown, the gap between rural and urban households has somewhat narrowed only in recent years.
Only 1.5% of rural households reported receiving any sort of government benefit for the provision of drinking water to their homes. About half the benefits received were attributed to the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, aimed at providing safe drinking water to every rural Indian, and which claims to cover 81% of habitations.
Electrification proceeded at a slower pace than before
Nearly 94% of rural households reported having electricity for domestic use in 2018. This was up from 80% in 2012.
Only 5.4% of the respondents said that they had received benefits from a government scheme for electrification in the previous three years though, and about half said the benefits came from the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. That scheme was targetted at connecting villages to the power grid.
In September 2017, the Modi government launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana scheme, better known as the Saubhagya scheme, aimed at connecting all households to the electricity grid by 2019. The NSO survey was conducted between July and December 2018, but did not ask respondents specifically about receiving benefits under the Saubhagya scheme.
Pucca homes were built at an unremarkable – but steady – rate
The National Statistical Office defines a pucca house as one that has a roof and walls made of materials such as cement, stone, brick, tile and corrugated sheets. The number of rural Indians living in such homes rose from 66% in 2012 to 77% in 2018.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, launched in 2015, provides subsidies for low-cost housing in both rural and urban India.
However, only 4% of rural and 0.9% of urban respondents said they had received any benefit from a government scheme for housing in the past six years. Among those who did, 77% rural and 53% urban respondents indentified the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana as the scheme they had benefited from.