Two official surveys on prevalence of open defecation in Tamil Nadu throw up varying findings

While a Central government study found that almost 95% of villages in the State are sustaining the open defecation-free status, another study commissioned by the State government a year before found that 91.9% of the rural population practised open defecation

Updated - October 24, 2022 02:14 am IST

Published - October 16, 2022 01:00 pm IST - CHENNAI

An official says faulty construction of toilets and vulnerability of coastal districts to cyclones are two major factors for the prevalence of open defecation. File

An official says faulty construction of toilets and vulnerability of coastal districts to cyclones are two major factors for the prevalence of open defecation. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Two official surveys have thrown up different findings on the prevalence of open defecation in Tamil Nadu.

Though the reference periods are different for the surveys, the gap is only one year. Both - pre-baseline (PBS) Tamil Nadu Household Panel Survey (TNHPS) 2018-19 and the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS)  2019-20 - relate to the pre-COVD-19 pandemic years. The findings of the former, commissioned by the State government, were made public only a few days ago, while those of the NARSS  were given out as part of the replies in the Lok Sabha during March 2021 and February 2022.

Carried out at the initiative of the Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation at the Union Jal Shakti Ministry, the national survey found almost 95% of villages in Tamil Nadu sustaining the status of open defecation free (ODF). According to the Tamil Nadu survey, 91.9% of the rural population, which did not have toilets within the premises, practised open defecation. 

On October 2, 2019, all the villages in the country declared themselves as ODF.  In February this year, Union Minister of State for Jal Shakti Prahlad Singh Patel informed Lok Sabha that as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) [Grameen - Rural],  about 10.9 crore individual household latrines (IHHL) were built all over the country between October 2, 2014 and February 7, 2022. In Tamil Nadu, the number of IHHLs constructed was 55,11,791.

While referring to SBM and its impact, the  PBS-TNHPS shows that around 73% of households surveyed had a latrine within their premises in 2018-19. However, there existed a disparity between urban and rural areas with the former having 61% coverage and the latter, 86%.  In rural areas, 7.6% of  those households which did not have toilets used public toilets while 91.9% of them resorted to open defecation. 

Initiated by the State government’s Planning, Development and Special Initiatives department and coordinated by the  Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan and Tamil Nadu’s Department of Economics and Statistics (DES),  the PBS-TNHPS identified Ariyalur, Cuddalore  and Villupuram as top three districts practising open defecation. Compared to the findings of the Tamil Nadu Human Development Report (2017),  Cuddalore replaced Dharmapuri among the top three districts practising open defecation in 2018-19.

On the issue of open defecation in rural areas in Tamil Nadu, a senior official in the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj department explains that faulty construction of toilets and vulnerability of coastal districts to cyclones are two major factors responsible for the prevalence of open defecation. The government is working on finding an effective  alternative solution to the problem, the official points out.       

M. Srikanth, a young resident of Mangalam Nathamedu village in Namakkal district, observes that the practice  is a feature of the “culture” of men in rural areas.

R. Elango, a veteran panchayat leader from Kuthambakkam in Tiruvallur district, commends the Central and State governments for their “enormous efforts” in recent years to improve sanitation. Yet, he feels consultation with local communities and the participation of the communities are essential to achieve the objective. As for designing the toilets, care should be given to ensure adequate ventilation and space. He suggests that bathroom-cum-toilets be built for eliciting better response from women in rural areas. 

V. Raghupathy, professor in the Department of Political Science and Development Administration, Gandhigram Rural Institute, wants the system of public toilets to be strengthened, even if the priority is for individual household latrines.

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