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Critically Evaluating the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’

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November 15, 2017

What is the issue?

Independent studies on the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission – SBM (rural) contradicts the government’s claims.

What was the focus of SBM –Rural?  

  • The primary priority of the SBM-rural was to ensure an ‘Open Defecation Free’ India by 2018.
  • To achieve these measures, government imposed a swachh Bharat Cess to raise funds and set out on a vigorous campaign.
  • It set ambitious targets for every ‘administrative village’ for constructing toilets within specific deadlines to ensure 100% latrine access.   

What does the data say?

  • Over Rs. 60,000 crore has been spent on the programme thus far.
  • But despite its scope and importance, there is very little objective evidence about its performance.
  • Apart from the government’s data, the only other comprehensive data source is with the ‘Swachh Survekshan Gramin’ – SSG 2017.
  • SSG survey was conducted by the Quality Council of India (QCI), a body set up jointly by the Government of India and industry.
  • Both sources portray a similar picture, which rated nation-wide latrine coverage at around 63%.
  • Moreover, the QCI survey also claimed that 91.29% of those with access to a toilet use it.

What are the problems with the official data?

Despite the lack 0f other comprehensive data pointers, independent studies on a smaller scale have largely contradicted the official version. 

  • Quantitative Approach - Implementation of the program was highly number intensive with focus on building physical structures.
  • After the targeted number of latrines is constructed, a village will be declared open defecation free.
  • Hence, there seemed to be concerted effort to look into whether the latrines are being used and open defecation has gone down.
  • Exaggerating Count - Unused structures constructed under UPA government’s latrine building programme “Nirmal Bharat” have also been counted under SBM.
  • In fact, pictures of many such defunct latrines can be seen on the SBM website categorised as uploaded, approved and counted.
  • Also, certain villages have been declared “ODF verified villages” in where less than 30% households have a latrine. 
  • Nudged questionnaires - QCI survey says that 91% of those having access to latrines use them – which aren’t the case.
  • Some researchers say that questionnaire used for surveys by government was biased to get an outcome in support of latrine use.
  • Notably, surveys that posed a balanced questionnaire captured more open defecation practices.

Is it really a people’s movement?

  • Forcing Compliance - The study found that in most villages, coercive measures & threats were used to promote the SBM.
  • Name shaming and harassment of people by officials burdened with targets were flagged in many places.
  • Notably, less than a quarter of households said that it was their own initiative to build the toilet.
  • This is contrary to the government’s claim that SBM is a people’s movement.
  • It also defeats the very purpose of the program – which is to drive in a mindset change among people for achieving sustained cleanliness.
  • Debt Burden - The program operated on a ‘build first and get reimbursed later’ model - to promote project ownership among people. 
  • But considering that it cost anywhere between Rs. 12-25 thousand to build a latrine, and the kind of institutional pressure to comply, many were forced to borrow from informal source.


Source: The Hindu

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