More than half the rural population of the country still opts for open defecation, says the recently released Swachhta Status Report by the National Sample Survey (NSS) Office. The nation-wide rapid survey was conducted during May-June 2015, concurrently with the 72nd round of the NSS. The survey was to track the government’s flagship programme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The survey estimates that 52.1 per cent of people in rural India choose open defecation compared to 7.5 per cent in urban India.
In the survey, 45.3 per cent rural households reported having a sanitary toilet, while in urban areas, the figure stands at 88.8 per cent. The lowest percentage of households having sanitary toilets was reported in Jharkhand (18.8 per cent), Chhattisgarh (21.2 per cent) and Odisha (26.3 per cent). The States with the highest numbers were Sikkim (98.2 per cent), Kerala (97.6 per cent) and Mizoram (96.2 per cent).
Responding to a question in Parliament, the government said that since the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) on October 2, 2014 there was an improvement of 8.12 percentage points in number of rural households having toilets, with 50.17 per cent rural households covered as of February 2016.
According to NSS data, 13.1 per cent of the villages and 42 per cent urban wards have community toilets. However, they were not being used in 1.7 per cent villages and 1.6 per cent urban wards. Also, in 22.6 per cent of the villages and 8.6 per cent urban wards, community toilets were not being cleaned.
In response to a parliamentary question in March, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation said “The main reason for open defecation is behaviour and mindset of the people who have continued the practice for centuries.” It also stated that adequate availability of water for toilets is also a concern.
According to the NSS report, while 87.9 per cent of the urban households were found to have access to water for use in toilets, only 42.5 per cent rural households had this facility. For this situation to improve, under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), the incentive for individual toilet has been increased from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 12,000, to provide for water, including for storing water for hand-washing and cleaning.
While the government hasn’t set any fixed targets — since sanitation schemes are demand driven — it does plan to construct 1.2 crore toilets in the current year.
The toilet construction numbers, however, are to be taken with a pinch of salt, as an audit report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India released in December 2015 found that during the UPA-II regime, governments of at least 16 states exaggerated the data on individual household toilets by over 190 per cent of the actual constructions. And that of the constructed toilets, around 30 per cent were found to be dysfunctional.