The country aims to be open defecation-free by 2019 but a new study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that India's fight against open defecation is heading towards a failure. Progress in four states, namely UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha is pathetic. Interestingly, three of these states are ruled by BJP or its ally.
Together, these four states account for a massive 60 per cent of the people in India who defecate in the open. Unless these states become open defecation-free, the world, and India, cannot meet their ODF target.
Sunita Narain, who heads CSE, said: “It is one thing to build toilets, quite another to ensure they’re being used. Besides motivating people to change, concrete steps - other than those that deter them from defecating in the open - will have to be taken. These will include repairing/rebuilding unusable toilets, and incentivising behavioural change.”
HOW FOUR STATES WORK
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, Bihar will have to build toilets for some 202 lakh families. At the moment, says the CSE study, the state has the poorest record in terms of rural sanitation. Out of the 6.4 crore households without toilets in the country, 22 per cent are in Bihar. Till June 2017, around 70 per cent of its population was yet to get access to toilets. More than 50 per cent of girls miss school in Bihar due to the lack of proper toilets in schools.
The CSE study says: “The state has focused on building toilets at a break-neck speed without making people aware of them, without ensuring that these toilets are functional and are used."
Around 99 per cent of the expenditure of the state has gone towards building of toilets. However, the abysmal quality of the toilets built has meant that their use has been very low. “Bihar has converted less than 1 per cent of the total dysfunctional toilets in the country into functional ones,” the CSE study adds.
Around 54 per cent of the people in rural Uttar Pradesh (UP) defecate in the open. Of the 6.4 crore households needing toilets, 23 per cent are in UP.
The primary focus, as in Bihar, lies on building toilets. In 2016-17, the state built around 17.41 lakh toilets. However, use has not picked up due to slow disbursal of funds and lack of basic necessities like water (especially during summers).
What’s more, the lion’s share of the toilets have been built in villages near the Ganga, leaving the river exposed to the threat of severe contamination from polluted groundwater as well as streams that run into it. The state has spent money on building toilets without giving a thought to managing the excreta, points out the CSE report.
Only 40 per cent of the 90 lakh families living in rural Odisha have access to toilets. Some districts have achieved 100 per cent coverage. Puri is one example. However, many of the toilets being built are being used as store houses for fodder, found CSE researchers.
According to the report, Odisha residents have almost no control over deciding where a toilet should be built. Wrong design, lack of water, insufficient awareness – all contribute to low use. In some areas, which already face shortages of drinking water, people are skeptical of how water will be supplied to the toilets.
Compared to the other three states, Jharkhand is doing relatively better with 53 per cent of the state’s families having access to toilets. About 73 per cent of the 4,402 village panchayats have been part of various awareness campaigns on the issue of rural sanitation.
One of the reasons behind Jharkhand’s relative success is the involvement of local communities and bodies such as women’s self-help groups. These communities and bodies have helped create awareness among residents; they have also monitored the toilet construction process. The state is also moving forward on putting in place better wastewater and solid waste management systems, says the CSE study.