Stink over missing toilets: ministry initiates probe

CAG audit may be sought if states fail to disclose correct information, says secretary for drinking water and sanitation

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 06 December 2013

The secretary of Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) has set up a high-level committee to look into the huge discrepancy between its data on toilets built under its sanitation programme and what exists on ground. The discrepancy came to light following the 2011 Census findings that said the number of rural households across the country that don't have a toilets were many more than what the ministry claimed.
The Census figure showed that only 30.79 per cent of rural Indian households have toilets, whereas data compiled by the ministry showed that 53.09 per cent of the country's rural households were covered by the sanitation drive by December 2010. The difference between the ministry data and Census data is 22.30 per cent, which translates into more than 37.5 million missing toilets. All these toilets were built for individual households under the government's flagship programme, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), in a period of 10 years. TSC was started in 1999 and  was renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) in 2012.

Pankaj Jain, secretary with the ministry, had expressed serious concern on the matter during a closed-door meeting with senior officials of concerned departments of state governments last week.

“Media reported that many toilets exist only on paper and ministry data does not tally with Census data. On one hand we have 600 million people defecating in the open and on the other hand we are unable to construct toilets. I feel it is a disturbing trend,” said Jain (see 'Where are the missing toilets?').

He added that state departments are accountable to the ministry, which is accountable to the nation. “That’s why we have constituted a committee to look into the matter.”

He added that the ministry may seek an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) if the states fail to disclose correct information.

Sarswati Prasad, joint secretary for sanitation, ascribed the discrepancy in data to “over-reporting” of toilets which are not constructed and exist only on paper. “The Ministry is not in position to take a call on which figure is correct,” he said.

Missing toilets

Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh top the list of states where toilets built under TSC are missing in large numbers (see table). But there seems to be a serious flaw in MDWS data which claimed that in Kerala there is no sanitation coverage for 78 per cent rural households, whereas Census figure showed this figure to be around seven per cent.

Compare ministry data with Census 2011 data

State Percentage of households sans toilets
(As per MDWS data)
percentage of rural households sans toilets
(Census 2011)
Jharkhand 64.31 92.38
Madhya Pradesh 25.56 86.88
Chhattisgarh 52.02 85.47
Bihar 70.46 82.40
Rajasthan 47.39 80.35
Uttar Pradesh 29.25 78.23
Tamil Nadu 23.70 76.78
Karnataka 41.17 71.59
Gujarat 33.85 66.96
Maharastra 42.33 62
J&K 65.01 61.35
West Bengal 30.69 52.26

Reasons for discrepancy

Earlier, the ministry had said population growth may explain the conflict in Census data and ministry data.
There is no denying increase in population and household count over the years, which makes total sanitation coverage an uphill task. However, even if this increase is kept in mind, the discrepancy between MDWS and Census 2011 data is a high 25 per cent, back of the envelope calculations show.

N C Saxena, former secretary with Union Ministry of Rural Development, said, “many a time, toilets are constructed only on paper. And even if constructed, they soon become defunct. The space is then used as a store room or for other such purposes.” TSC was launched during his tenure in the rural development ministry. Saxena emphasised that sanitation programme should be streamlined and focus should be on “behavioural change instead of subsidy-based model” (the government at present provides subsidy to construct toilets to meet sanitation targets without involving the community or making efforts to bring about an attitudinal change in people so that using toilets become a habit). 

Amit Agarwal, deputy commissioner of Rohtak in Haryana, who has been closely associated with sanitation campaign and its implementation in Haryana, said the renovation cost of defunct toilet is more than the cost of constructing a toilet. So people are not interested in using toilets, says Agarwal. “If community is not involved in this campaign, whether it is TSC or NBA, it is not going to succeed, he added. He said the community-led sanitation approach in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana has worked better. 
“The data of missing toilets is a wake-up call for one and all and this must be addressed urgently,” said Mamta Das of Water Aid India who initiated a Right to Sanitation campaign in India, on the eve of World Toilet Day on November 19, along with 50 other organisations from different states.

In July, 2012, the 193-member UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, initiated by Singapore, to declare November 19 as World Toilet Day. The decision was taken in the backdrop of the fact that 2.5 billion people have little or no access to sanitation.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.