Open defecation-free India? NSO report debunks Swacch Bharat claims
The recent NSO report, which says 71.3 per cent of rural households had access to toilets during 2018, clearly contradicts the claims of an open defecation-free India made by Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi.
On the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared India to be an open defecation-free (ODF) country with complete access to toilets. He claimed that all of rural India was now open defecation free, owing to the work under the Swachh Bharat programme.
The National Statistical Office (NSO) survey on sanitation has contradicted this claim and showed that 71.3% of rural households had access to toilets. The Central government had put the figure at more than 95%.
The results of the NSO survey, carried out from July to December 2018, did record great progress in toilet access and use in remote areas. But the latest data means that more than one-fourth of households in villages still have no access to toilets.
The survey report comes after a six-month delay in the release owing to the disagreement between the NSO and the government on the official survey results.
The two data sets presented in the survey report- household access to toilets and benefits received from government schemes on sanitation- were the key points of contention.
In October the Prime Minister had said, “rural India has declared itself ‘open defecation-free’. This is the strength and proof of the 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”.
In the same week, the swachh bharat abhiyan (Rural) had said 25 States and Union Territories had been declared ODF, while toilet access across the nation touched 95%.
The NSO report contradicts these claims by saying that 28.7% of rural households had no toilet access at the time. States like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan were declared ODF even before the survey began while states like Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were declared ODF during the timespan of the survey.
But the NSO data shows that 42% of the rural households in Jharkhand had no toilet access at that time. With that gap being 37% in Tamil Nadu and 34% in Rajasthan. In Gujarat, which was one of the first states to be declared ODF, almost 20% of all households don’t have toilet access, according to the report.
The other important states listed also had significant gaps: Karnataka(30%), Madhya Pradesh(29%), Andhra Pradesh(22%) and Maharashtra(22%).
Significantly, half the rural households in Uttar Pradesh and Odisha had no access to toilets in 2018, meaning they were defecating in the open, according to the report. Which is an improvement from the 2012 report, where 75% and 81% of rural households in UP and Odisha, respectively, had no access to toilets.
But contradiction comes into play once again as according to the data submitted in the Rajya Sabha on December 24 last year, by the then MoS for drinking Water and sanitation, Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, rural Uttar Pradesh had 100% households with toilet access.
This report also throws more of contradicting sets of data by indicating that Swachh Bharat scheme has worked since 95% of people with access to toilets in rural India used them regularly; while also showing that only 17.4 per cent of rural households reported receiving benefits from government schemes for building sanitation facilities in the last three years.
Earlier, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation, which was part of the working group (or an expert committee) of the survey, had expressed concern related to some findings of the report.
On May 27, when the working group met to approve the report, the ministry said the data on the proportion of households with access to toilets in rural India “was on the lower side” and should be re-examined. It also said the data on the share of households who didn’t receive benefits from sanitary schemes of the government “was on the higher side,'' according to Business Standard.
The ministry said the findings of the survey did not match the administrative data. It also cited a “large scale third-party” survey titled “National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey 2017-18” under the World Bank-supported project, which found rural toilet usage to be around 93.4 per cent. According to the ministry’s own data, national rural sanitation coverage went up from 39 per cent in 2014 to 98 percent until January 2019.
All of this could have led to the six-month delay in the release of the NSO report.
Another interesting bit of survey report was the caveat it came out with. “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 survey report said. Essentially meaning that the subjects were asked about if they received sanitary-scheme benefits from the government before they asked the question related to access to toilets; which the report admits could have led to respondent bias.
“There may be an inherent tendency of the respondent to give a negative reply on the presumption or expectation that a negative reply on benefits received and access to facilities, may help them to get additional benefits through government schemes. This respondent bias is difficult to isolate and measure using conventional survey techniques,” the NSO report said. It added that the gaps would be plugged in the survey which will begin in 2020.