New mobile app under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to collect data on use of toilets

Details asked by the app not sufficient to give information on proper use of toilets, says expert

By Sushmita Sengupta
Published: Thursday 13 November 2014


The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) has launched an android-based mobile application to record the number of household toilets and their usage in rural India. The initiative is a part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) that was rolled out on October 2 this year with the aim to eradicate open defecation in the country by 2019.

According to MDWS, the mission has been designed carefully and has supposedly taken care of the gaps in the previous Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). The main hurdle for NBA was documentation of number of household toilets. After the publication of Census 2011 data and National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report 2012, a huge discrepancy was observed in the data of number of household toilets reported by these sources and by the MDWS. The ministry was criticised severely because as the number of toilets reported by the ministry was much higher than that given by the Census data.

According to MDWS, discrepancy in number of toilets is due to the fact that the numbers of dysfunctional or defunct toilets are not included in the Census. “Therefore, with a vision to keep all data uniform, the ministry has introduced a mobile survey, in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre (NIC),” says Sandhya Singh, joint director (Statistics), MDWS. “Using smart phones, one can upload the photographs of the beneficiaries being given toilet facilities in their homes under SBM-Gramin,” adds Singh. The mobile application, titled mSBM App, helps the user to capture the latitude and longitude of the location as well as the date and time of recording. According to Singh, MDWS has started the exercise as a pilot project. The information collected will be stored in the central server of the mission. At present, the state government officials are using this application for reporting progress of SBM to the Centre. “Later, the exercise will be executed by the representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions,” says Singh. The user manual of this application has been uploaded on MDWS’s website. S Arulchelvan, assistant professor, department of media sciences, Anna University has welcomed the initiative. “It has once again been proved that India is a pioneer in making use of available information, communication and technology (ICT) in various sectors.” He adds that at present, the app is used for reporting the number of new toilets constructed by the government. The accountability and numbers are expected to motivate the government to build more toilets.  He, however, is not convinced that the use of this application can help to eradicate open defecation.

The ministry has already put up a few reports from Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha as a pilot survey. The reports (uploaded till date) give details like district, village, habitation, owner and toilet usage status. The latitudes and longitudes have also been registered. A total of 13 cases have been recorded so far. Only in three cases, the beneficiaries were found to be pictured with the toilet. In one case from Odisha, the side view of the toilet makes it difficult to understand the existence of the toilet and its condition—if the toilet seat is clean or adequate water is available. Singh explains that presently, the survey will be only on the number of toilets. But later on, the ministry will ask NSSO to document the usage of the toilets and monitor them for a longer period to determine their condition.

Since the picture of the user of the toilet in the recent database is not available, it cannot be ascertained if the toilet is being used or not. Out of 13 cases uploaded so far, only four cases have details on toilet usage—whether the toilets are functional, clean and there is water.

Social and psychological hurdles

Moreover, there is some ambiguity in the questions designed for the survey. For example, there is no information on whether all the family members use toilets or not. A study, published in 2014 by Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, had showed that 40 per cent of the households in their study areas (they studied 3,235 rural households in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) that have a functional toilet still have at least one member who defecates in the open. Hence, it is very important that the database that will be developed through mobile survey gives an idea on how many members of the family use household toilets. Agreeing to this, Arulchelvan of Anna University says, “Many toilets that have been constructed are not being used by people due to lack of water, location of toilets and rigid beliefs and behaviours. There is a great need for social and psychological changes among the people for proper use and maintenance of household toilets.” The expert also believes that if the department makes usage details mandatory while filling data on mSBM’s app that will make data more significant.
Arulchelvan strongly believes that mSBM App can be improved and promoted among officials, health/ sanitation workers, village volunteers and non-profits to ensure the usage and gather numbers.

“The ministry, as of now, is very happy with the output of the mobile survey,” adds Singh.

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