Findings of annual rural sanitation survey questionable

The claim of 96.5 per cent rural households having access to toilets with potential usage is somewhat doubtful, especially in a scenario where other ground reports depict a different picture

By Rashmi Verma
Published: Wednesday 06 March 2019
Representational Photo. Credit: Vikas Choudhary/CSE

The findings of the second edition of National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) 2018-19 show that 93.1 per cent of rural Indian households have access to toilets and 96.5 per cent of these toilets are in constant usage.

The NARSS 2018-19 is a third-party survey that has been conducted by the Independent Verification Agency (IVA) under the World Bank support project. The third party includes IPE Global in a joint venture with Hindustan Thompson Ltd represented by Kantar Public.

The results are optimistic when compared to the previous recorded household coverage of 77 per cent (2017-18).

Table 1: Comparative results of National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey


Household access to toilet (in %)

People with toilet access and usage (in %)

ODF verified villages confirmed ODF (in %)

Villages with minimal litter and stagnant water (in %)

NARSS 2017-18





NARSS 2018-19





Noted as the world’s largest sanitation program, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has claimed to change the behaviour of hundreds of millions of people with respect to toilet access and usage.

Rural sanitation coverage in the country at the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) on October 2014 was 38.7 per cent according to data from the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS).

Entering the fifth year, the countrywide coverage in rural sanitation has been increased to 98 per cent and India is about to eliminate the infamous distinction of having the world’s largest number of people going out for defecation.

The work scale is huge in SBM as over nine crore toilets have been built, and 5.5 lakh villages and 615 districts have been declared 'Open Defecation Free' (ODF), till date.

The salient feature of NARSS 2018-19 is that it has overcome the statistical shortfalls of NARSS 2017-18 and used the PPS (Probability Proportion to Size) sampling methodology, which yields results within a confidence interval of 95 per cent. 

The survey was conducted between November 2018 and February 2019 and covered 92,040 households in 6,136 villages across the states and union territories of India.

After approval from the Expert Working Group (EWG) (including the World Bank, UNICEF, Water Aid, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, India Sanitation Coalition, NITI Aayog, and Union Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation), the results were presented to MDWS and the findings made public.

The other key finding of NARSS 2018-19 in relation to ODF status and solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) concludes that 2,622 villages (90.7 per cent) of all 2,891 ODF-verified villages surveyed were confirmed to be ODF and 95.4 per cent of the villages surveyed found to have minimal litter and minimal stagnant water. This means that there has been a better management of solid and liquid waste.

Though the results are welcoming and influence the positive implication of SBM (G), however, this gigantic claim of 96.5 per cent of rural households that have access to toilets with potential usage is somewhat questionable, especially in a scenario where other ground reports depict a different picture.

A recent study released by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) and accountability initiative of the Centre for Policy Research (January 2019) claimed that despite toilets in place, a quarter of rural population stuck to open defecation.

“We covered 1,558 households in 157 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and tracked changes between 2014 and 2018. It was found that while there was a huge increase in toilet ownership, it did not translate into a proportionate increase in usage,” says Nazar Khalid, research fellow, RICE.

About school sanitation, the 13th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report (released on January 2019) showcases that 22.8 per cent rural schools surveyed have unusable toilets.

The picture was not all grim for toilet infrastructure development especially in the states of Kerala, Punjab and Sikkim. However, the dynamics of usage of the constructed toilets between 2014 and 2018, show negative trends.

The ASER report says the working and usage of sanitation facilities is ignored at the institutional level and the situation is concerning in north-eastern states, particularly Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, where the percentage of schools with unusable toilets has been increasing in the last four years.

These studies and several other ground reportage question the functionality of toilets where community mobilisation and behaviour change is missing.

“In our studies, we found that in ODF panchayats, out of 82 per cent constructed toilets, 70 per cent toilets are functional and only 49 per cent are regularly used by the beneficiary,” added Avani Kapur, Director, Accountability Initiative.

In the RICE report too, there is an account of threatening, enforcement and coercion. “In our survey, we found that 56 per cent of respondents reported to be aware of some form of coercion within the village. This seriously challenges the toilet usage and maintenance in the long run,” added Khalid.

Moreover, another major issue is the management of black and grey water, especially, in areas near the coast, areas having shallow groundwater, and hilly terrain, where the twin-pit toilet model's efficacy is seriously challenged.

Despite these facts, if the prolonged exercise of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) and technological options for management of solid and liquid waste will be employed, the success of SBM will be sustainably matched by the futuristic goals. 

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