Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, October 3, declared the country ‘open defecation free’, claiming that 99 per cent of rural villages in India record no open defecation. In the mega event of Swachhta Mission, marking the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, PM said that India amazed the world by building 11 crore toilets for 60 crore people within 60 months.
“Once, one used to hesitate to talk about toilets, but now toilet has become an important part of thought in the country,” Modi said. The government launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 to make India open defecation free by October 2019 and achieve universal sanitation coverage.
However, PM Modi’s claim is in contrast with the ground reality. As PM Modi declares India to be free of open defecation, there are people who are compelled to defecate in open as they do not have toilets at their homes.
Open Defecation Deaths
In September, two Dalit children, a boy and a girl, who did not have toilets at their home were allegedly beaten to death by two upper-caste men for defecating near a village panchayat building in Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district. The village, according to locals, had been declared as ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF) on April 4, 2018.
Number Of Toilets
PM Modi’s claimed 11 crore toilets are built. But the government data suggests 10 crore toilets are built.
In rural areas alone, over 10 crore toilets have been built in the last five years, which comes to an average of 38 toilets per minute. According to a survey by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics of over 3,235 households in four north Indian states in 2014 and 2018, four years after the launch of Swachh Bharat, open defecation had come down by 26 per cent, with an increase in the number of household toilets from 37 per cent to 71 per cent.
Today, many more are aware of sanitation than ever before and those for whom access was the main barrier, have seen an increase in the usage of sanitation facilities. But does this solve the problem?
Why Does Open Defecation Still Exist?
The problem of open defecation is not limited to this particular district in Madhya Pradesh. Many in the country use washrooms only in case of emergencies as they have been in a habituated of defecating in the open.
While speaking to The Logical Indian, Dr Siddharth Joshi, a manual scavenging activist said, “The survey conducted does not take into account the entire population, and many have been left out of the survey. Over a period of time, families multiply, new houses are created, and these are often left out from the survey.”
Dr Sumedh, a public health and sanitation expert, said that the data used to measure the scheme’s success is based on a survey done in 2012. “The ODF status declaration was done on the basis of a baseline survey conducted in 2012 by the Panchayats, Rural Housing and Rural Development Department. The data is very archaic,” he claimed.
Dr Sumedh said the construction of toilets does not include aspects like providing water and electricity to the toilet blocks, which may also prevent people from using it.
People who have built toilets at there homes do not have access to water, restricting them from using it. With the sole aim to construct more toilets, the government is missing out on the maintenance of toilets and awareness about the initiative. In many families in rural areas, only women have access to toilets as it requires a lot of water to clean the toilets and it is not easy to fetch water from far distances. This forces all the men and children to defecate in the open.
“In the race to meet the target, many factors have been neglected. Adequate water supply and discharge of waste have not been paid attention by the gram panchayat or the local bodies,” said Dr Siddharth.
Another reason for not using toilets is caste discrimination. Manoj Balmiki, whose youngest sister and his only son became victims of the horrific crime in MP, alleged that the family faced caste discrimination in the village. Balmiki alleged that they have to wait for an hour to draw water from the hand-pump as the entire village discriminates his family.
Lack Of Implementation
The authenticity of the claims made by PM Modi remains questionable as the results of the Swachh Bharat Mission is not as blemish-free as the government has claimed.
According to a survey carried out by The Hindu, between 2014 and the end of 2018, latrine ownership in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had increased by 34 percentage points. Even in states that had already been declared open defecation-free, the actual coverage was far below than 100 per cent, the survey found.
As per the latest National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS 2018), only 29 per cent of households with toilets had the twin leach pit model. Many households have built larger, single pit toilets, septic tanks, ignoring the recommended distance from water sources. This highlights the lack of awareness in the most ambitious ‘Swachh Bharat Mission.’
Such toilets often require more water through external systems for removal and treatment of excreta. Those who fail to maintain it often have to face catastrophic health conditions. Moreover, the unavailability of effective systems for emptying them to the inadvertent increase in the inhuman practise of manual scavenging.
Opposition Skeptical About Claims
As the Modi Government claims India to be ‘open defecation free’, the opposition parties and experts question the claim, pointing at lack of access to toilets, inefficient solid waste management plants and persuading Indians to adopt better sanitation practices.
Why is the BJP govt determined to diminish Gandhiji's ideology of Satya.
— Congress (@INCIndia) October 2, 2019
Under pressure to meet the Swachh Bharat narrative, BMC has falsely declared Mumbai as Open Defecation Free.
Mumbai is suffering from a deficit of over 1 lakh toilets to meet SBM prescribed ratio of 1 toilet per 25 people.
— Mumbai Congress (@INCMumbai) October 2, 2019
Dear Mr @BillGates : Good morning! When you get some free time from checking your pictures at your “ award ceremony” with PM Modi , do read.
BBC News – India: Two held for killing children for 'defecating in the open' https://t.co/mNurA0ee1D
— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) September 28, 2019
India is not open defecation free as Modi boasts – Independent Study doesn't support govt claim. For Gandhi, Truth was God, but Modi celebrating #GandhiJayanti with a Big Lie! #GandhiAt150 https://t.co/64HFAW4bbX pic.twitter.com/E549OaiRUk
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) October 2, 2019