To counter the problem of open defecation in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan in 2014. An initial glance at the beautifully designed website for SBM shows that the government has constructed 8,72,71,496 Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) and declared 530 out of the 640 districts along with 5,12,670 villages as Open Defecation Free in just 1,473 days. This means that approximately 60,000 toilets were built every day and millions of people stopped defecating in the open after simply the “construction” of toilets, regardless of any substantial data on their daily usage.
Based on data that I collected while surveying the uptake of toilets in Dindori District (Madhya Pradesh), I will be making two claims that every believer of an Open Defecation Free India should consider and think about:
For the past two years, we have been hearing about the valuable work done by the incumbent government in the field of sanitation and especially in constructing toilets. I, along with a friend, decided to visit one of the 250 most backward districts of India – Dindori located in Madhya Pradesh to assess the actual impact of the scheme. Around 60% of the population belonged to the Scheduled Tribes with the predominance of the Baiga community. Households from 4 out of the 7 blocks – Bajag, Samnapur and Shahpura – were chosen to have a comprehensive data set. Eight villages (Gutalwah, Dalka Sarai, Tikra Sarai, Pondi, Kikarjhar, Bona, Jalda, and Gangatwara) were randomly selected. A total of 167 households were surveyed.
It is an undeniable fact that impact has taken place. The construction of toilets can very visibly be noticed. However, the facts used for rhetoric by supporters and leaders of the government stating that the cover of toilets has risen from 38.70 in October 2014 to 95.8 in October 2018 is based on the manipulation and misinterpretation of data. I shall explain these claims substantially using the data collected from Dindori but certain patterns can be found all across backward villages.
An extensive search on the SBM website provides the status of declared and verified ODF villages across India. All 365 Gram Panchayats from the 7 blocks of Dindori are declared ODF. However, just 1 out of 20 households had an Individual Household Latrine as per data collected on ground in Bona village of Block Bajag. No data is available for me to check the status of individual villages in a block. I can view the list of Gram Panchayats but not a list of villages, which makes it easy for the confinement of such discrepancies. Therefore, the websites solely gives data for a block and its Gram Panchayats, not the actual villages which constitute a Gram Panchayat. This makes it easier for the government to hide the status of backward villages and call a region OPEN DEFECATION FREE by providing selective data which can be subjected to manipulation.
While all supporters claim that most of the regions are ODF, it is very important to make a distinction between DECLARED ODF and VERIFIED ODF. Out of the 365 ODF Gram Panchayats in Dindori, only 27 are verified ODF. That means, less than 7.5% of villages have actually been verified to be ODF. At the time I visited Bona, it was declared ODF but had no signs of a toilet. Even the then Sarpanch of the village did not have an IHHL in useable condition but nevertheless, he could not stop boasting about his village being DECLARED ODF. It is very important to note that declaring a village as ODF does not mean that the village is ODF. Only the verification of villages proves the actual status of the impact of SBM which has failed to transpire. The problem of ODF verification is not limited to Madhya Pradesh. While some states like Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra have verified all of their declared ODF villages, the others are lacking in the verification but not in rhetoric.
|STATE||No. of Blocks||Declared ODF||Verified ODF|
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UP has verified only around 27% of its Gram Panchayats from the declared Blocks while Bihar has verified only 26%.
All over India, around 88,731 villages are yet to be declared ODF and while 5,13,226 have been declared as ODF, almost 1,35,132 villages are yet to be verified as ODF. Nevertheless, for the leaders and supporters, the job has been done and “INDIA IS ALMOST ODF.”
The second claim I wanted to make was regarding the alternate use of toilets which highlights the lack of motive behind the imperative behavioural change required to make India ODF in effect. The primary focus of the government, in my opinion, is not to make India ODF by 2019. It is to construct toilets across India and use it as a distraction to allude to an ODF status. If the motive was literal impact, a deadline would not have been announced and higher emphasis would be put on the behavioural change required for a transition from open defecation to using toilets as most of the communities in India have been defecating in the open for centuries and the simple construction of a toilet cannot guarantee the induced impact of its usage. Sixty eight percent of the people in ODF Declared District of Dindori did not use a toilet for defecation. Most of them preferred to defecate in the open simply because they were not accustomed to using a toilet and adequate water was not supplied. Some even used toilets to store construction material, fodder and hens!
Another alarming fact was that some households in Dindori had 3-4 toilets in the same backyard and none of them were being used. The only reason for their construction is the profit they can earn by constructing the toilet for a lesser rate than the incentive amount provided by the government.