Coercion used for toilet construction: survey

Study is misleading and does not reflect ground reality, says Sanitation Ministry

Published - January 14, 2019 11:09 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Coercion — in the form of threatened fines, shaming or withheld benefits — has been used to encourage toilet construction and usage as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission in many parts of rural Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, according to a recent survey. Dalits and Adivasis were more likely to report such harassment, it showed.

Authors of the study say such coercive methods are not just ethically wrong, but threaten the sustainability of the open defecation initiative. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has rebutted the study and The Hindu’ s earlier report on it, questioning the survey’s sample size and definitions.

The study, titled “Changes in open defecation in rural north India: 2014-2018”, was released last week by the research institute for compassionate economics (r.i.c.e.). The Hindu had reported on its preliminary findings related to increase in toilet construction and reduction in open defecation, noting that the percentage of people who continued to defecate in the open – about 23% — remained unchanged between 2014 and 2018, indicating that the Swachh Bharat Mission’s results had been driven more by toilet construction than behaviour change.

Sample size dispute

In its rebuttal, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation said that the study “grossly misleads the reader and does not reflect the ground reality.” One of its main concerns was the sample size of the survey, which covered 1,558 households in 157 villages against a total population of nearly five crore households and 2.3 lakh villages in the four States concerned. “Since the SBM is the largest behaviour change program in the world, to pick such a small sample and extrapolate results to an entire State is over simplistic,” it said.

“Sample surveys will always have some sampling errors, but those are quantifiable and there’s a known science to it. It is non-sampling error that cannot be corrected,” said Sangita Vyas, one of the authors of the survey.She pointed out that the study used sample weights in accordance with usual practice. Major surveys conducted and cited regularly by the government, such as the National Sample Survey and the National Family Health Survey, are similar sample surveys, she said.

The Ministry also raised concerns about the date of the survey — which was conducted between September and December 2018 — and the 21% of new households which were added between the 2014 and 2018 surveys.

‘Limited understanding’

The Ministry added that “the report fails to distinguish between coercion and affirmative community action, like local Nigrani Samitis, or local Gram Panchayat or community level sanctions on open defecation, which reflects the limited understanding of the community approach to sanitation among the survey conductors and analysers.”

While 12% of all survey respondents reported coercion in their own households, 56% were aware of some coercion in their village, said the study.

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