India is not REALLY open-defecation free, but again, people may have lied: NSO report

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Published: November 26, 2019 5:58 PM

About 30% of rural households lacked access to toilets in October 2018 even when the government said that over 95% of the target of Swachh Bharat Rural mission had been accomplished till then.

The report by NSO also has several disclaimers on the accuracy of the data.

An overwhelming number of Indians have claimed that they don’t have access to toilets, poking holes in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion of India having become open-defecation free under Swachh Bharat. But the NSO, which conducted the survey, also said that the respondents could not be fully trusted, and that they may have lied to underreport the access to toilets. About 30% of rural households lacked access to toilets in October 2018 even when the government said that over 95% of the target of Swachh Bharat Rural mission had been accomplished till then.

“71.3% of the households in the rural areas and about 96.2% of the households in the urban areas had access to latrine,” said NSO’s latest report on Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition in India. In fact, some of the states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, which were declared open-defecation free (ODF) in 2018, also lacked access to toilets. The survey takes into account the findings from July to December 2018.

Why people may have said No, when they meant Yes

The report by NSO also has several disclaimers on the accuracy of the data. “It may be noted that there may be respondent bias in the reporting of access to latrine as question on benefits received by the households from government schemes was asked prior to the question on access of households to latrine,” the report added. Further, NSO report also said that sometimes people tend to reply in negative with an expectation that negative reply will elicit additional benefits through government schemes. “This respondent bias is difficult to isolate and measure using conventional survey techniques,” the NSO said.

What about those who had toilets?

However, there were some respondents who said that even when they had access to toilets, they never used one because of many reasons. These reasons included lack of a super structure, no access to clean water, lack of privacy, or inability to afford charges of a paid toilet. 

While India was declared open defecation free in October this year and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was conferred a prize by Bill Gates, the findings of the report and government claims are in direct conflict. The government had launched its flagship scheme for building toilets across the country in 2014. One of the targets was to “provide access to toilet facilities to all rural households in the country”. Announcing India open-defecation free, PM Modi had said: “Today, rural India has declared itself ‘open defecation-free’. This is the strength and proof of success of the Swachh Bharat Mission. We are getting appreciated and awarded for providing toilets to over 660 million people in 60 months by building 110 million toilets in five years.”

During the five-year run of Swachh Bharat Mission, the central government released around Rs 36,000 crore to state governments for its Gramin arm alone.

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