World Bank recalls paper on decline in toilet usage in India

Amid reports of being under pressure from govt, WB spokesperson said there were “technical and procedural issues” with the papers’ clearance

December 02, 2023 05:05 am | Updated 07:52 am IST - New Delhi

Garbage dump near the message of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Bhopal. File

Garbage dump near the message of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Bhopal. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Weeks after the World Bank published a departmental working paper highlighting the “most concerning” trend of toilet usage declining in rural India since 2018 despite early gains of the Swachh Bharat Mission - Gramin, it has recalled this paper and two others, pending an “internal review”, while insisting that the papers had not gone through the required approvals internally before being published on the website. 

The paper titled “Progress on Sanitation in Rural India: Reconciling Diverse Evidence”, was published in September this year. It concluded that despite “breathtaking” gains in increasing toilet access, toilet usage had been going down in rural India since 2018 - with the largest drop in usage reported among people of Scheduled Caste (20 percentage points) and Scheduled Tribe (24 percentage points) communities. 

The Hindu had reported the conclusions of this paper on October 4, till which time it was available on the World Bank website as part of its Policy Research Working Papers series. The World Bank cited “technical and procedural issues” with internal clearance for taking down this and two other papers, even amid reports that it was under pressure from the Union government to withdraw the working papers. 

The other two papers were titled: “What Lies Beneath? An Assessment of India’s Groundwater Quality And Monitoring Systems”, and “Lifting the lid: Process and Delivery of the Swachh Bharat Mission”.

A government spokesperson refused to provide a comment on the taking down of the papers, saying it was a “purely World Bank issue”. 

The paper on Progress on Sanitation in Rural India had reconciled varied data points on toilet access and usage from the government’s National Family Health Surveys, National Sample Surveys and the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) and the SBM-G’s own information system 

The NARSS was conducted across rural India from 2017-18 to 2019-20 by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation with World Bank support.

It had shown that as the SBM-G started, it led to a substantial increase in access to own or shared improved toilets in rural India - from 38% in 2012 to 90% in 2019-20 - with the sharpest increase reported in the last two years of this time period.

“At the national level, regular use of any toilet [improved or unimproved] increased from 46% to 75% on average in rural areas during 2015-16 and 2019-21. This increase was across all population and socio-economic sub-groups we track, and especially pronounced for the poor and socially disadvantaged groups,” the now-held paper noted.

But even as the regular use of any toilet for SC and ST people saw a jump of 51 and 58 percentage points respectively between 2015-16 and 2018-19 - reaching almost the same levels as those in the General Category, the paper had said these gains were reversing since then.

Since 2018, there had been a 20 percentage point decline in regular use of toilets for SC peoples and a 24 percentage point decline for ST peoples compared to a decline of 9 and 5 percentage points for the Other Backward Caste and General categories respectively, it had added. 

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