Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 06 February 2024

A critical view of the 'sanitation miracle' in rural India

Relevance: GS I and II (Social Issues and Justice)

  • Prelims: Sustainable Development Goals; Swachh Bharat Mission; ODF Phase II;
  • Mains: Sanitation and associated challenges;

Why in the News?

The government needs to identify the shortcomings in the existing programme if it wants to transform India from Open Defecation Free to Open Defecation Free-plus status by 2024-25.


  • Access to water and sanitation is Goal 6 in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals envisaged by the United Nations. 
  • Public sanitation programmes have a long history in the country, beginning with the launch of the highly subsidized Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) in 1986.
  • The Total Sanitation Campaign 1999 marked a shift from a high subsidy regime to a low subsidy and demand-driven approach.
  • In the past decade, India has made significant progress in improving sanitation coverage to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. 
  • The Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G) was launched in 2014 to make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by October 2019. 
  • The government aims to transform India from ODF to ODF Plus by 2024-25, focusing on the sustainability of initial achievements and promoting solid and liquid waste management.

Data and Behavioral Patterns: These data throw up two major issues — the left-out households and toilets unused for defecation. 

  • Sanitation Coverage in India: Sanitation coverage in India improved from 39% in 2014 to 100% in 2019, leading to the launch of Phase II of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G). 
    • 27% of households in survey villages in Gujarat and 61% in West Bengal did not have their own toilets. 
    • A 2018 survey covering the best and worst covered districts and blocks of three States showed that 59% of households in Bihar, 66% in Gujarat and 76% in Telangana had toilet access. 
    • Among those having access, 38% of households in Bihar, 50% in Gujarat and 14% in Telangana had at least one member who did not use it.
  • Challenges in Toilet Usage: The construction of toilets does not guarantee their use, as evidenced by surveys showing non-usage due to various reasons such as lack of superstructure, malfunction, unhygienic conditions, and social norms. 
    • In Gujarat, 17% of those not using toilets reported that the sub-structure had collapsed, and 50% reported that the pits were full. 
    • One-third of non-users in West Bengal reported that the superstructure had collapsed, and another one-third reported the pit being full. 
    • Moreover, around 3% of households did not use their own toilets in either State. 1/4th of non-user households in Gujarat did not cite any specific reason for not using it. Social norms of purity may have dissuaded them from using the toilet. 
    • Quality issues were also another major reason.
  • Discrepancies in Toilet Access and Usage: The National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) - Round 3 (2019-20) reported 95% toilet access but only 85% usage of safe, functional, and hygienic toilets, highlighting a 10% gap between access and usage.
    • Toilets not used for defecation are used as storerooms. If social norms prevent toilet use on the premises, the facility is used for bathing and washing clothes.
    • Access to water also influences toilet usage, with some households not using toilets due to a lack of water access.
  • Social and Economic Factors: The use of toilets is influenced by household size, social norms, and access to water. The study also highlights the influence of social networks and social norms on sanitation behaviour, emphasizing the need for tailored approaches in different communities.
  • Lack of Synergy and Coordination: The lack of synergy and coordination among various programs for basic needs, such as water, sanitation, and housing, has been identified as a challenge. Uncoordinated efforts would lead to an inefficient utilization of public finances.
    • The more comprehensive NARSS- Round 3 (2019-20), conducted by the Ministry, shows that 95% of the rural population had toilet access in India. 
      • Access to owned, shared, and public toilets was available to 79%, 14% and 1% of households, respectively. 
    • It was also reported that 96% of toilets were functional, and almost all had access to water. However, the same report suggests that only 85% of the rural population used safe, functional, and hygienic toilets.

Household Size, Social Norms:

  • Household Size and Access to Water: Our econometric models show that toilet use is influenced by household size and access to water. Overcrowding and social norms can prevent all household members from using the same toilet. 
    • The chances of using a toilet are reduced if access to water is difficult. Conversely, if households have doorstep access to water, toilet use is high in remote and backward villages.
  • Program Limitations: Phase II of the program does not mandate multiple toilets for larger households or provision for attached bathrooms. 
    • The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) aims to provide tap water to each household by 2024, but no relation has been observed between its expenses and the percentage of villages declared ODF Plus. 
    • Similarly, there is no relation between the percentage of ODF Plus villages and households having tap connections.
  • Social Norms and Networks: Social norms and networks play a significant role in toilet construction and use. The size and characteristics of these networks vary across different parts of the country. 
    • For instance, lower castes in upper caste-dominated villages have high brokerage to make social norms acceptable and enforceable. 
    • Sanitation behaviour also varies across socio-economic classes, with access to toilets being highest for upper castes and lowest for Scheduled Castes. 
    • The variation in networks between villages should be considered in campaign design, as behavioural change can happen independently in some villages and collectively in others.

Lack of Synergy: Sanitation Coverage and Behavioural Change in India (Way Forward)

India has made significant progress in sanitation coverage, with the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) leading to almost 100% sanitation coverage in the total population and 93.3% coverage in rural areas. However, challenges such as open defecation still persist.

  • Need for Behavioural Change: The achievement of universal access to safe sanitation is contingent upon collective behavioural change, influenced by social networks and overall living standards. The lack of coordination among programs for basic needs has led to a lack of synergy despite high expenditure levels.
  • Need to address Challenges and Solutions: India faces challenges in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), with limited access to clean water and sanitation facilities, high rates of water-borne illnesses, and the highest number of people practising open defecation worldwide. 
    • The success of India's efforts in addressing these challenges depends on continued collaboration between the government, private sector, and civil society.
  • Correlates of Access to Sanitation Facilities: Socio-economic characteristics such as religion, caste, wealth status, and education significantly influence access and usage of sanitation services in India. 
    • For instance, the general caste group and rich households have better accessibility to sanitation facilities.

Mains PYQs

Q. 'To ensure effective implementation of policies addressing water, sanitation and hygiene needs, the identification of beneficiary segments is to be synchronized with the anticipated outcomes.' Examine the statement in the context of the WASH scheme. (2017)

Q. What are the impediments in disposing of the huge quantities of discarded solid wastes that are continuously being generated? How do we safely remove the toxic wastes that have been accumulating in our habitable environment? (2018)

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