Not So Clean

Swachh Bharat completes two years, but eliminating open defecation is a distant goal.

Written by Sangita Vyas | Updated: October 1, 2016 1:20 am
Swachh Bharat, Swachh Bharat Mission, open defecation, clean india, public toilets, india public toilets, india toilets, open defecation india It is now well known that “untouchability” plays an important role in explaining open defecation. (Source: Express file photo By Bhupendra Rana)

October 2 marks the second anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Announcing a goal of eliminating open defecation by 2019 was a great idea, but now that we are 40 per cent through India’s flagship sanitation campaign, it is a good time to assess how much progress the SBM has made. Unfortunately, it is impossible to answer this question because the data simply do not exist. Although the Swachh Survekshan Report, released recently by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, presents statistics claiming to report latrine use, the survey methodology is not credible. Surveyors did not ask a question that makes respondents feel comfortable saying they defecate in the open, and they did not ask about the behaviour of each individual in the household.

Despite the provision of a periodic latrine use survey in the SBM policy guidelines, we are no closer to understanding how many people defecate in the open. In the absence of this data, what can be used to measure progress? Accountability Initiative recently released a budget brief tracking SBM allocations and expenditures. They find that from fiscal year 2014-2015, when the SBM started, to fiscal year 2016-2017, allocations to SBM more than tripled.

Where is all of this money going? Sadly, most of it is going towards latrine construction, and very little towards
information, education, and communication (IEC), the headline for behaviour-change activities. The fraction of spending on IEC has actually fallen since the SBM started, from three per cent of total expenditure in 2014-2015 to one per cent in 2015-2016. This is troublesome given the reasons open defecation persists in rural India.

It is now well known that “untouchability” plays an important role in explaining open defecation. Several studies have found that many rural Indians associate emptying a latrine pit by hand with manual scavenging, work that Dalits have traditionally been compelled to do. In light of this situation, rural Indians do not want to use the kinds of latrines that require periodic manual pit emptying, like those promoted by the Indian government. That many rural Indians do not want the kinds of latrines promoted by the government suggests that IEC would have to be a key part of promoting latrine use in rural India. Unfortunately, it appears that the little attention paid to IEC activities translates into very low awareness of the goals of the SBM.

We have been conducting a phone survey to understand awareness of the SBM. The survey applies the same techniques as leading surveys like the Gallup poll to produce samples representative of Delhi NCR and Uttar Pradesh. Over 2,500 people answered the survey over spring and summer 2016. One question asked respondents whether they had heard of the SBM. Sixty-two per cent of people in Delhi NCR and 40 per cent of people in UP claimed that they had.

To those who claimed they had heard of the SBM, we asked a follow-up question: What do you think the SBM does? Most people thought the goal of the SBM was general cleanliness of houses and public spaces. There was little awareness that an important goal of the SBM is to eliminate open defecation: Only five per cent of respondents in Delhi NCR and three per cent of respondents in UP mentioned that the SBM has something to do with latrines. If it is true that almost nobody knows what the SBM is actually for in the state where almost 20 per cent of India’s open defecators live, then any nominal IEC efforts are woefully inefficient.

At its current rate of progress, the SBM is unlikely to achieve the elimination of open defecation. Can policymakers change people’s behaviour by tackling the casteism and norms of purity and pollution that cause open defecation to persist? Or will we waste three more years, crores of rupees and the lives of hundreds of thousands of children?

The writer is managing director for sanitation, Research Institute for Compassionate Economics.

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. P
    Prashant
    Oct 1, 2016 at 10:40 am
    Ab aab UP me aayega to aur kyaa milegaa,,,,,a state where goons lyk raja bhaiya,shivpal can win election,,what else can u expect?? ,,,,it will take 20 yrs for UP bihar to achieve the level of what TN kerela have already achieved
    Reply
    1. R
      Raj
      Oct 1, 2016 at 4:59 am
      Sangita, have you done a research or seen the villages ? My own village in Gujarat is now far better than what it was 10 years back. You must understand that decades of practices takes years to reform. Seems your research if any , is limited
      Reply
      1. A
        Arun
        Oct 1, 2016 at 11:37 am
        When the earnings/savings of the people isn good enough to afford to construct toilet and maintain it automatically people will do it. They are aware of cleanliness.Public toilets will not be acceptable to most of the people whether in city, town or villages.
        Reply
        1. K
          kumar
          Oct 1, 2016 at 1:19 pm
          i hope Vyas understands that the issue is ongoing for 100s of years and its not possible to change it overnight , plz see the great initiative taken by swach bharat mission and see how u can contribute towards it and make India Cleaner
          Reply
          1. C
            Change or persih
            Oct 1, 2016 at 7:18 pm
            Indian's should defecate in the the bramin president , and rss Modi's home.
            Reply
            1. G
              Gyanesh
              Oct 1, 2016 at 4:06 am
              Swatch Bharat Abhiyan is related more with people than government it can motivate but can not force people to live clean,and it has become more difficult when we have leaders like Rahul who is more interested in foiling this programme than support and motivate people.One will find TV disc in slums,and mobile in the hands of slum dwellers but not a toilet.
              Reply
              1. J
                Joseph R Stephen
                Oct 1, 2016 at 2:57 pm
                Well this w campaign was PR spin made by a US company for MODI to sell this great dream to Children.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Then BJP got into beating up Christians - an easy ball since this community does not fight back and also to give a message to others we can do anything - ROWDY and MAFIA rule.lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Meanwhile BJP is busy with COW DALITS and MUSLIMS.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;NOW we have stan.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Write a letter to you great gdaughters and place it in a time capsule - when our dreams of this dying and crying Indians are realised - NO corruption and a GOLDEN INDIA.
                Reply
                1. B
                  BharatK
                  Oct 1, 2016 at 1:11 pm
                  In the villages, where it is possible open defecation is good. Let menfolks in the villages goes for open, and fertilise our lands. I did open defecation, so what? Does urban elites defecate in their stomach?
                  Reply
                  1. Load More Comments