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India does need toilets more than temples

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Date:Oct 5, 2013

Modi’s toilet remark has sparked a political row, but no one is paying attention to India’s sanitation challenge

Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has stirred up yet another controversy, this time with his “toilets before temples” remark. There was seemingly nothing wrong in what Modi said, but it irked Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh no end and started a political row. Ramesh said enlightenment has dawned on Modi rather late in the day because when he (Ramesh) had said the same thing he was opposed by the Sangh Parivar. The war of words between the Congress party and BJP continues. But what has been missed in all this din is the ground reality—almost 70 per cent of rural India still defecates in open.

Concern over poor sanitation in India is nothing new. Mahatma Gandhi once said sanitation is more important than Independence. But more than 65 years after Independence, only 31 per cent of rural Indian households have toilets (see table). Census 2011 data shows that nearly 70 per cent of rural households defecate in the open in the absence of toilet facility. Data from the 65th round of survey by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) varies very little from Census data of 2011.

But another report, Indian Rural Development Report 2012-13, released by the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) presents a sharply divergent picture. The report claims 73 per cent rural households have access to toilets.

Households with latrine facility (in per cent)

Years

Census

NSS*

2011

31%

35% (65th round in 2009)

2001

22%

40%(58th round in 2002)

1991

9%

29%(49th round in 1993)

National Sample Survey

Sanitation has been work in slow progress. The 2008-09 NSS data shows nearly 49 per cent households had no latrine facility, and the rural urban divide was considerable: nearly 65 per cent of rural households had no latrine facility whereas only 11 per cent of urban households did not have any latrine (see table).

Past National Sample Surveys on households with no latrines

Years NSS surveyed

Rural

Urban

Rural+Urban

2009

65.2%

11.3%

49.2%

2002

76.3%

17.9%

59.8%

1993

85.8%

30.6%

71.4%

The NSSO surveys revealed that households in lower MPCE (monthly per capita expenditure) quintile (one-fifth) classes are more likely to be without a latrine facility than the households in higher quintile classes. In rural areas, about 85 per cent of the households in the bottom quintile class had no latrine facility against nearly 42 per cent of the households in the top quintile class. In urban areas, nearly one-third of the households in the bottom quintile class and less than one per cent of the households in the top quintile class had no latrine facility. In rural areas, low MPCE households mostly have no toilet facility (see table).

Lower MPCE households less likely to have toilets

MPCE (in quintile)

% of households with no toilet facility

0-20

85

20-40

77

40-60

71

60-80

63

80-100

42

Surveys also show that acceptability of toilets is lower in the traditionally deprived social groups with low MPCE, like Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes.

Social group-wise break up on sanitation
Social Groups % households with no toilet

ST

75

SC

76

OBC

69

Others

43

All

65

 

Use of Septic tank/ Flush Toilet by households
Years NSS surveyed Rural Urban Rural+Urban
2009 17.9% 77.3% 35.4%
2002 11.7% 70.7% 28.5%
1993 0.63% 58.1% 19.8%

Government interventions so far

In 1986, the first national effort to improve sanitation coverage was launched in the form of Central Rural Sanitation Programme. But it failed to achieve its objective in 1990s. In 1999, MoRD initiated the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) that aimed to eradicate open defecation by 2017 by providing basic sanitation facilities. In 2003, the Nirmal Gram Puraskar was introduced under TSC to reward local village, block, and district level governments that achieved full sanitation coverage for housholds and schools. In 2012, TSC was renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) with aim to accelerate rural sanitation coverage so that 50 per cent of gram panchayats attain Nirmal Gram status by 2017 and Nirmal Bharat (clean India) by 2022.

Given the progress made in sanitation, a clean India does indeed seem to be a highly ambitious aim.

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