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Another government survey debunks Swachh Bharat’s 100% ODF claim

Despite government efforts to promote sanitation and end open defecation in India, recent surveys have cast doubt on the success of these initiatives. Four government surveys released between 2018 and 2021 have disputed the claim that all Indian villages are open-defecation-free (ODF), revealing poor sanitation levels in many areas. For example, data from the Swachh Bharat Mission, Gramin (SBMG) portal claimed that villages in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were 100% ODF by October 2018, but the National Statistical Office (NSO) survey from the same month showed that only 71% and 62.8% of rural households in those states had access to some form of toilet. Similarly, SBMG data claimed that over 99% of rural households in 24 states and union territories had individual household toilets as of March 2019, while the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) recorded six months later showed that in the same areas, fewer than 90% of rural households had access to their toilets.

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The most recent survey, released in March 2022, showed that between January 2020 and August 2021, a majority of members in 21.3% of rural households reported having no access to any type of toilet. This is the fourth survey in the last five years to reject the claim that all Indian villages are ODF.

To address these challenges, the government launched Swachh Bharat Gramin Phase-II, which aimed to expand toilet coverage in schools/Anganwadi and provide solid/liquid sanitation facilities in all villages, including waste management systems. Villages meeting these criteria were named ODF-plus villages. However, due to the clubbing of targets, the share of rural households with toilet access (the target for Phase-I) was no longer tracked separately, and indicators related to Phase-I were removed from the dashboard. As of April 1, 2022, only 8% of villages in India had achieved ODF-Plus status, with Tamil Nadu having a share of more than 91%. Interestingly, just a year earlier, only 72.4% of rural households in Tamil Nadu had some form of the toilet, according to the MIS survey.

The Swachh Survekshan Rural Survey, conducted between December 2021 and April 2022, lists the percentage of households with access to toilets in each state. According to this survey, 28 states had a share of such households above 90%, with an average of 95% across India. This is in stark contrast to the MIS survey data conducted six months earlier.

More needs to be done to promote sanitation and end open defecation in India, particularly in rural areas. While the government’s Swachh Bharat Gramin Phase-II initiative is a step in the right direction, there are still significant gaps in access to toilets and sanitation facilities across the country. Ongoing efforts to track progress and address these gaps will be crucial in promoting sanitation and improving public health outcomes in India.

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