Country needs toilets more than its temples

Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has stirred up yet another controversy, this time with his ‘toilets before temples’ remark. There was seemingly nothing wrong in what Modi said, but it irked Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh no end and started a political row. Ramesh said enlightenment has dawned on Modi rather late in the day because when he (Ramesh) had said the same thing he was opposed by the Sangh Parivar. The war of words between the Congress party and BJP continues. But what has been missed in all this din is the ground reality—almost 70 per cent of rural India still defecates in open.

Concern over poor sanitation in India is nothing new. Mahatma Gandhi once said sanitation is more important than Independence. But more than 65 years after Independence, only 31 per cent of rural Indian households have toilets. 

Census 2011 data shows that nearly 70 per cent of rural households defecate in the open in the absence of toilet facility. Data from the 65th round of survey by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) varies very little from Census data of 2011.

But another report, Indian Rural Development Report 2012-13, released by the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) presents a sharply divergent picture. The report claims 73 per cent rural households have access to toilets.

Sanitation has been work in slow progress. The 2008-09 NSS data shows nearly 49 per cent households had no latrine facility, and the rural urban divide was considerable: nearly 65 per cent of rural households had no latrine facility whereas only 11 per cent of urban households did not have any latrine.

The NSSO surveys revealed that households in lower MPCE (monthly per capita expenditure) quintile (one-fifth) classes are more likely to be without a latrine facility than the households in higher quintile classes.

 In rural areas, about 85 per cent of the households in the bottom quintile class had no latrine facility against nearly 42 per cent of the households in the top quintile class. In urban areas, nearly one-third of the households in the bottom quintile class and less than one per cent of the households in the top quintile class had no latrine facility. 

In rural areas, low MPCE households mostly have no toilet facility. Surveys also show that acceptability of toilets is lower in the traditionally deprived social groups with low MPCE, like Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes.

In 1986, the first national effort to improve sanitation coverage was launched in the form of Central Rural Sanitation Programme. But it failed to achieve its objective in 1990s. In 1999, MoRD initiated the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) that aimed to eradicate open defecation by 2017 by providing basic sanitation facilities. In 2003, the Nirmal Gram Puraskar was introduced under TSC to reward local village, block, and district level governments that achieved full sanitation coverage for housholds and schools. 

In 2012, TSC was renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) with aim to accelerate rural sanitation coverage so that 50 per cent of gram panchayats attain Nirmal Gram status by 2017 and Nirmal Bharat (clean India) by 2022.

Given the progress made in sanitation, a clean India does indeed seem to be a highly ambitious aim.

On arrangement with Down To Earth
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