What’s holding back India’s complete ODF status?

A few laggard states needing appropriate technology and behavioural intervention are the final hurdle in order to achieve 100% household coverage of toilets

By Rashmi Verma
Published: Thursday 14 March 2019

India will soon emerge as a country with 100 per cent toilet coverage, leaving behind some 80-odd countries of the globe. As estimated by a study done by the New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment, the target was supposed to be achieved by February 2019 (considering the data as assessed from Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) website on September 5, 2018).

The website on September 2018 shows that the household toilet coverage in the country had reached almost 92 per cent. Around 20 of the 35 states and union territories had reached 100 per cent household coverage of toilets while two were at 99 per cent.

Some 13 million households remained to be covered. Following that, it was estimated that India would become open defecation free by February 2019, at least in terms of building a toilet for each household.

Despite such encouraging development the ministry is still hanging on the very last step of the ladder and no declaration has been made till date. MDWS website showcases 98.9 per cent individual household toilet coverage for the country (as on March 14, 2019). The states/Union Territory which hold back the country to achieve the set targets include Goa (76.2 per cent), Odisha (83 per cent), Telangana (95 per cent) and West Bengal (98.9 per cent).

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 2 October 2014. The main crux is the focus on behaviour change approach toward usage of toilets, and ensuring ‘Clean India’, including a nationwide open-defecation free (ODF) status by the October 2019.

Till date, over 9 crore individual household toilets have been built across rural India so far, taking the national rural sanitation coverage up from 39 per cent in 2014 to over 98 per cent today. Considering the current toilet construction phase and target to achieve, around 8,760 toilets need to be constructed daily, which is far less than the previous toilet construction rate.

So, here comes the very valid question, why the slow progress at the last step?

The work under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) is well paced for last four years and indeed resulted in positive action. The government machinery and non-governmental players have been working relentlessly. The result is massive coverage; around 5.55 lakh villages are declared and verified open defecation free by the ministry since the inception of the programme.

Also, the government has been mounting regular third party surveys to track and monitor the work quality progress. But every now and then, the issues related to behaviour, adaptability, infrastructure (water, toilet technology), and solid and liquid waste management comes into limelight. The slow progress at the final stage may link to emerging issues of toilet design and acceptability.

Further, there are instances where verification is pending for gram panchayats. The delay in verification may be a contributory factor for the low pace. The states that are at the bottle have their own limitations in terms of economic status, geological limitation, space constraints and tenancy laws. For example, the overall official data of Goa shows that toilet coverage was 60.59 per cent in 2014.

This coverage increases to 76.2 per cent in 2015-16. But since then, the per cent of coverage has not increased. Water crisis and rocky terrain are few of the challenge the state is facing. Odisha again is the case of laggard performer on sanitation front, the major challenge here is the community acceptability and lack of awareness for toilet construction and usage.

The state put reasonable amount of effort to ensure public participation and bring about a change in people’s mindset, still the goals are far reaching. To conclude it can be said that to cross the final step of the ladder, states need to adopt more appropriate technology and behavioural intervention approach to reach the desired outcome.

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