When the Swachh Bharat mission was unfurled amidst much fanfare and speculation back in October 2014, a resonance of approval arose from the nation to free India of open defecation. India’s sanitation coverage has since increased from 41.92 per cent to 63.94 per cent in 2019. The improvement is perceived as a significant success for the campaign. More than 4 crore toilets have been built under the aegis of the mission in two years compared to the 83 lakh toilets built under the Total Sanitation Campaign in 10 years between 2001-2011, noted by the Drinking water and Sanitation Ministry. In addition to the sharp increase in the number of toilets built, the pace of constructing the toilets has also risen under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The campaign now nearing three years of completion has shifted its focus from reducing open defection to other arenas of behavioural change, piped water supply, toilets, and drainage.
Challenges associated with open defecation
Sanitation coverage in India has increased from 41.92 percent to 63.96 percent. 1,93,151 villages of India’s 640,687 have been proclaimed as defecation free. However, to declare the whole country ODF (Open Defecation Free) a lot more needs to be done. Until now a total of 137 districts has been declared ODF in India. In light of the minimalistic progress that toilet building has witnessed under previous sanitation programs the building of more than 4 crore toilets is quite is an achievement. Current challenges to the efficacy of the program are building toilets which are women and physically disabled friendly, endowed with continuous piped water supply in addition to other operational challenges and ground-level implementation complexities.
It is to be noted that based on the data collected over the decade leading up to the launch of the program, the mission failed to pioneer caste-based differences tending to hamper access to the benefits of the sanitation programs launched by the government thereby halting its progress. In the Indian Human Developmental Survey conducted by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) across 40,000 households capturing not only individual-level information on their socio-economic background but also on the social group composition (caste and religion) in 1500+ villages, it was noticed that 40% of the surveyed households defected in the open (60% in rural areas). Across social groups, despite the overall improvement in terms of access to sanitation, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged classes remains high and unchanged and should be covered by the mission.
The 2011-2012 round of the IHDS survey noted the highest incidence of open defecation (55%-60%) is by Scheduled Caste and Dalit’s, compared to the 30% open defection rate among advantaged and upper caste households. The percentage of open defection in 2004-2005 survey of IHDS was 70% among a disadvantaged section of the populace, indicating despite the efforts by the previous government to bridge the gap, an internalized focus on sanitation among minorities is required in the Swaach Bharat Mission.
It is important to note how disadvantaged houses face in terms of access to sanitation when they reside in villages where the majority of the households are forward or upper class as a lot of sanitation practices have to be shared.
FACTORS INFLUENCING CASTE BASED DISCRIMINATION IN ACCESS TO SANITATION
To perceive how access to sanitation varies with caste, we look at the percentage of people open-defecating, and whether efforts have been made to propagate the importance of sanitation and the use of latrines and guide behavioural change. Due to lack of data, the audit was only able to include Hindu castes — Sikh, Christian, and Muslim households were excluded.
|Majority community of a village||% of villages where 80% or more households openly defecate|
|Brahmins + Forward||22.15|
As the above data indicate, each community’s percentage in a village influence the village’s likelihood of its total households defecating in the open. It is seen that a higher percentage of ST-majority villages display a high prevalence of open defecation, and this share is lowest for villages where upper caste households are in the majority. The social disadvantage being correlated with economic disadvantage; the lack of sanitation practices is indeed a function of lower economic well-being or education levels of the household. But, these differences are found among households within higher economic and education strata as well.
|Community||ST majority||OBC majority||SC majority||Brahmins + Forward majority|
|Brahmins + Forward||50.14||50.86||34.81||35.62|
The above data on the percentage of households of each caste defecating in the open when a particular caste is in majority (50.14% of forwarding caste households living in ST-Majority villages defecate in the open).
While there is considerable improvement seen over two rounds of the survey, a large fraction of households continue to defecate in the open. Disadvantaged households residing in villages where an advantaged community is in majority appear to be better off compared to their status in other villages, but SC and ST households continue to be disadvantaged in such villages irrespective. Villages that house more advantaged social groups are also economically better off and thus exhibit lower open-defecation levels even among the disadvantaged, the pattern of disadvantage concerning sanitation practices remains.
Therefore, while construction of toilets has rapidly increased, if the government truly wishes to realise its goal of Swachh Bharat by 2019 it must make concentrated efforts to ensure adequate representation of communities during the design of campaigns and efforts. Ironically, the more villages the government quickly declares as ODF, the fewer opportunities will be presented to deal with the problem of differential access and usage.
OTHER HURDLES TO AN ODF INDIA (Piped water supply and drainage problem)
Piped water supply– Water supply remains critical even under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has done well to ensure that 93.9 per cent of rural households with toilets have access to a piped water supply. In urban areas, 99 per cent of household toilets have access to a piped water supply. But it needs to be ensured that the piped water supply is continuous and is also available for the rest of the toilets which will be built. The mission needs to take into account the problem faced by drought-hit areas which often run out of piped water supply during summers and ensure behavioural change concerning using water for sanitation purposes among toilet users.
Drainage system – Between 2012 and 2016, there has been a 9 per cent decrease in the number of rural household toilets without a proper drainage system. At face value, It seems a decent percentage. In rural areas, the toilets built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan release the faecal sludge into properly constructed pits in the ground. Drainage is more problematic in urban areas as many drainage systems are old constructions which often lead faecal sludge directly to water bodies, causing environmental pollution. Absence of proper drainage implies the accumulation of faecal waste near the toilet area, resulting in health hazards. Laying of new and better drainage systems is a responsibility of the urban civic bodies. Even in terms of drainage facilities, it is worth noting the SC/ST’s are worse off.
|The majority population of the village||Pucca||No drainage|
|Brahmin + Forward||31.45||23.58|
This table represents the SC and ST household–dominated villages are more likely to have no drainage system, and ST households are also least likely to have a pucca or covered drainage system in their village.
ODF INDIA (AN UTOPIA OR REALITY)
Do these figures indicate failure of the Swachh Bharat Mission? Since the launch of the mission, many experts have opined that merely building toilets will not eradicate open defecation. Piped water supply, adequate drainage, and behavioural change are some of the other aspects the mission needs to focus on. Along with building toilets, laying of pipelines for drinking water supply and proper sewage systems ought to be prioritised if the mission is to achieve its goal. Behavioural change can only be aimed for when people have access to basic amenities such as functional toilets with proper drainage.
The ODF tag can become a reality when only people stop defecating in the open. Construction of toilets will not change a behavioural practice spanning decades. And toilets without basic amenities of water and drainage will only keep people away from using them. While, the involvement of various arms of the government, the focus of the media, the movies being made, and dedicated volunteers working towards improving this is commendable but some of the larger systemic issues have ensured that the most disadvantaged continue to get excluded.