The government’s ambitious plans to make India free of open defecation by 2019 seems to be a far-fetched dream as over half of the rural population from the country still do not have access to toilets. A survey by National Sample Survey Office had revealed that over 50 per cent of the rural population from India are involved in open defecation.
The survey was conducted to track the success of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a flagship programme of the Modi government, one year ago. The survey estimated that nearly 52.1 per cent of the people in rural India continue to remain involved in open defecation, as compared to 7.5 per cent people in urban India. Since the data is one year old, there could be improvements in the figures but achieving 100 per cent sanitation and making India free of open defecation remains a distant dream.
After Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, a nationwide cleanliness and sanitation programme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched by the government. Prime Minister Modi has himself taken a keen interest in making this programme a mass movement. The programme completes three years in October this year.
The conduct of the survey was the first time that the progress of the programme was monitored and tracked at a national level. Taking advantage of information technology advancements, the government is monitoring in real time the progress and success of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan across the country. To improve results, a competitive atmosphere between urban local bodies has been created. Capacity building measures have also been introduced for staff members of several urban local bodies.
However, despite such elaborate measures, changing the attitude of people with regard to sanitation and open defecation continues to remain a big challenge. The government is providing assistance of Rs 16, 000 in urban areas and Rs 12,000 in rural areas for the construction of individual household toilets. In the last three years, the government has provided assistance for construction of 4.60 crore Individual Household Latrine (IHHL) across the country. The Swachh Bharat portal claims that 2.25 lakh villages out of the 6.38 lakh villages across the country have become free of open defecation. The government has also claimed that 169 districts out of 707 districts across the country have become free from open defecation.
It is interesting to note that the neighbouring Bangladesh has achieved 95 per cent Open Defecation Free (ODF) status through an extensive campaign. Being a vital issue related to health and sanitation, the country focused on this issue for 15 years and managed to achieve this success. As compared to Bangladesh, India has started focusing on this issue a little late. But, if the ongoing campaign succeeds, India will achieve this significant milestone by the end of 2020.