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Miles to go before ODF

Miles to go before ODF

On the 150 birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was proud to announce that rural India has become Open Defecation Free (ODF). It has been a massive-scale national goal to make India a cleaner country by eliminating the age old practice of open defecation—an initiative that has proven to be more complicated than foreseen but one to have a positive impact on numerous aspects beginning with the common man's life to necessary social and economic changes, and ultimately, giving India a pleasing aesthetic make over making it more appealing and attractive. The intention is indeed more than commendable. But, as matters stand in the form of data, 40 urban local bodies of West Bengal are said to be standing in the way of urban India being declared ODF. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the nodal Ministry for Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban), however, has been compelled to revise the deadline to December 31 to meet the target for urban India to get ODF status. The Ministry's statistics reveal that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Goa, and West Bengal were the slow starters but over the last one year, UP, Bihar, Odisha and Goa moved fast and caught up and achieved good results. Goa had been lagging because it had not finalised the design of its community toilets till June, but at present, it has earned itself to be certified ODF. The developments that have taken place point to remarkable changes so intrinsic to the social fabric of the country that the changes brought about with an overhaul of this kind herald a new chapter in India's modernity. But, on the other hand, with the recent disclosure, National Statistical Office survey debunks Swachh Bharat claims in some very fundamental ways. This government report calls in question the authenticity of this database. The National Statistical Office's (NSO) 'Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition in India' report holds that 29 per cent of rural households and 4 per cent of urban households have no access to toilets. With the reference point of October 2018 for the survey, when, according to the Swachh Bharat Mission database, 95 per cent of households in the country had access to toilets and 25 states and UTs had been declared open defecation free, the survey now contradicts this data as it has revealed that only 71 per cent of households had access to a toilet at around the same time. Further, the survey has found households lacking toilets even in states which had been declared open defecation free prior to the survey.

The NSO survey on sanitation contradicted the claims of an open defecation free India made by the Central government's flagship Swachh Bharat scheme in spite of recording considerable progress in toilet access and its use in rural areas. The survey comes out with facts that about 71 per cent of rural households had access to toilets when the Centre was claiming the figure to be 95 per cent. The hasty declaration by the Prime Minister that rural India is now open defecation free on October 2, 2019, and that there is complete access to toilets bring forth most emphatically that the agenda of the government is pursued most relentlessly and by way of meeting targets, not stone is left unturned. It is at this line between the relentless pursuit of meeting the noble target of a large-scale social change and the actually matters on ground preventing this from being a reality, that the lacunae gapes wide. Bringing about a social change is one of the nature of complexity that far exceeds the tediousness to paper work and getting targets met for record sake. According to the NSO survey which was carried out between July and December 2018, with a reference date of October 1, large states which had been declared ODF (that is, 100 per cent access to toilets and with 100 per cent usage) even before the survey began included Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Other states which were declared ODF during the survey period included Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The survey reveals that almost 42 per cent of rural households in Jharkhand had no access to a toilet at that time. In Tamil Nadu, the gap was 37 per cent, followed by 34 per cent in Rajasthan. Gujarat, one of the earliest states declared ODF back in October 2017, has almost a quarter of all rural households with no toilet access. In the first week of October 2018, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Grameen) held that 25 States and UTs had been declared ODF, while toilet access across the country touched 95 per cent. After a systemic reality check, 28.7 per cent of rural households had no toilet access at the time. With regard to this data, the NSO noted, "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." What might be gauged from the situation is that Swachh Bharat is a massive multi-pronged programme and making india open defecation free is one very crucial aspect of it. A noble cause needs steady and consistent efforts to be accomplished. In a hurry to achieve targets, quality change—the most important element—will be inevitable compromised.

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