On 2 October 2014, Prime Minister announced the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), which targets eradicating open defecation in India by 2019.
SBM is a much-needed endeavour to improve sanitation standards in India.
Globally, India had a worse record than even poorer regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti, Ghana, etc. in terms of open defecation.
What has been the progress?
Between October 2014 and February 2016, the share of rural households defecating in the open went down by just over seven percentage points.
The figure was still above the halfway mark.
Both the extent of open defecation and their progress in eradicating it varies greatly across states.
What are the problems?
Toilet Coverage - The states which recorded better toilet coverage also had a lower share of households contributing to open defecation.
Sikkim, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, which had higher individual toilet coverage, fared best in terms of rural sanitation.
Odisha, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Telangana with less coverage were among the laggards.
Usage - 6% of households in India reported open defecation despite having toilets.
Access to Water - It is important in determining toilet use. 63% of the households that defecated in the open reported having toilets without running water.
States with poor access to water in toilets have a higher share of households contributing to open defecation. e.g Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar
Budget - The government set aside Rs 9,000 crore for rural sanitation in the 2016-17 Union budget but this has been accompanied by declining funds for the National Rural Drinking Water Programme.
This is unlikely to help eradicate open defecation.
Caste-based discrimination in the provision of water also seems to be responsible for low toilet usage.
Out of the 102 hand-pumps constructed in village in Rajasthan in the last 10 years, only two could be located in areas inhabited by lower-caste people.
With a regular toilet requiring at least 20-30 litres of water in a day for smooth functioning, even obtaining a few litres every day is a struggle in these areas.
Maintenance of toilets - It is critical to ensure usage.
What should be done?
It is essential to meet all the above shortcomings to achieve Swacch Bharat.
But it is to be remembered that eradicating open defecation would require much more than just meeting toilet construction targets.
Spending on toilet construction has steadily grown but the spending on the expenditure for behaviour change campaign activities is much less. In October, it constituted just 0.8% of the spending on construction of toilets.
Even that is limited to big billboards and advertisements.
But it has more to do with person to person engagement.
It is to be noted that the demand for toilets that will eliminate open defecation.
Therefore demand for toilets has to be created at local level and then people need to be made aware of sanitation.