By Reality Check
An official report has contradicted Indian government claims that rural areas of the country are completely free from the practice of open defecation.
The National Statistical Office (NSO) has released data showing that more than a quarter of households surveyed in rural India last year didn’t have access to a toilet.
Image caption: Women’s safety can be compromised by having to use open fields as toilets, Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
About 71.3% of households in rural areas had access to toilets.
National Statistical Office report
Government of India
The report is controversial as it follows an announcement last month by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that 100% of India’s villages had declared themselves free of open defecation after a massive toilet-building programme by his government.
Mr Modi had a long-held ambition of achieving this target by 2 October this year, the 150th anniversary of the birthday of India’s independence figure, Mahatma Gandhi.
Rural India, its villages have now declared themselves open-defecation free.
Indian Prime Minister, 2 October 2019
What does the new report say?
The NSO report is based on a survey carried out between July and December 2018 which covered more than 100,000 households across rural and urban India.
It found that in rural areas, there were 71.3% of households with access to a toilet – so less than three-quarters. And it said of those households which did have access to a toilet, 3.5% never used it.
Rural households with no toilet
Uttar Pradesh 48
Tamil Nadu 37.2
Source: National Statistical Office report 2018
The report also highlights that the situation in some states is much worse than in others. For example more than 50% of rural households in Odisha state have no toilet.
The results appear at odds with another government report, the 2018-19 National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey, which showed that 93.3% of rural households had access to toilets.
Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
On the anniversary of Gandhi’s birth last month, Mr Modi announced that all of India’s villages had declared themselves free of open defecation as part of his “Clean India” mission.
He did not include urban India, and the latest official information for urban areas shows that there are still some 50 or so localities yet to declare themselves free from open defecation.
How many toilets have been built?
It’s certainly true that many millions of toilets have been built using public money, mainly in rural areas of teh country.
The toilet building programme under the BJP government reached a peak in 2017-18 when nearly 30 million new toilets were built.
Toilet construction in rural India
Source: Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat) data
The Clean India website for rural India stated that by October 2018 toilet access in rural areas had reached 95%.
this is a significantly higher figure than that estimated by the NSO in their July-December 2018 survey of just over 71%.
However, the NSO report also notes that there had been a major improvement since its last survey in 2012, when only 40.6% of rural households had toilets.
And it’s important to highlight a caveat about its findings: the report says the question about access to toilets was asked straight after a question about receiving state benefits.
“There may be an inherent tendency to give a negative reply to these questions,” it says, in the expectation “that this may help get additional benefits through government schemes”.
Open defecation continues
Rates of open defecation – in rural and urban India – has been falling for some years, prior to the current BJP government taking over in 2014.
But there’s been plenty of evidence that the practice still goes on, despite what official figures say.