Survey debunks Swachh Bharat’s 100% ODF claim

Over 21% of rural households do not have access to any type of toilet, according to a government survey


Yet another released recently government survey has called into question the Central government’s claim in 2019 that all Indian villages are open defecation-free (ODF). However, four government surveys/reports released just before or after the announcement, including the latest Multiple Indicator Survey (MIS), have not only disputed the ODF status of most States but also shown persisting levels of poor sanitation in many of them.

The three older surveys which disputed the ODF status were the National Statistical Office (NSO) survey from October 2018, the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) of 2019-20, and the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) 2019-21.

For instance, according to data from the Swachh Bharat Mission, Gramin (SBMG) portal, villages in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were declared 100% ODF by October 2018. However, according to NSO data, only 71% and 62.8% of rural households in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, respectively, had access to some form of latrine (own, shared, public) in the same month. The SBMG data claimed that in 24 States/UTs, over 99% of rural households had individual household latrine as of March 2019, whereas the NARSS data recorded six months later showed that in 24 States/UTs, less than 90% of the rural households had access to their own toilets. According to the SBMG data, 99.4% of rural households in Gujarat had individual latrines as of March 2019. However, according to NFHS data, in the second half of 2019, only 63.3% of the population in rural households in Gujarat used individual toilets.

According to the MIS released in March this year, conducted between January 2020 and August 2021, in 21.3% of rural households, a majority said they had no access to any type of latrine (own, shared, public). The MIS survey is the fourth in the last five years to debunk the ODF claim.

Map 1 shows the percentage of rural households in which a majority of the members reported access to some type of latrine, as per the MIS survey. For instance in Kerala, 100% said they had access, while in Uttar Pradesh only 74.2% had such access.

Notably, while the goal of Swachh Bharat Gramin phase-1 were yet to be achieved, the government unveiled phase-2, which extended toilet coverage to schools/anganwadis, and said all villages should have solid/liquid waste management systems. The villages which met these criteria were named ODF-plus villages. Due to the clubbing of goals, the share of rural households with toilet access (the goal of phase-1) was not tracked separately any more. Also, phase-1 related indicators were removed from the dashboard. Map 2 shows the share of such ODF-plus villages as of April 1, 2022. Overall in India, only 8% of villages attained this ODF-plus status back then. Tamil Nadu’s share was over 91%. Interestingly, just a year ago, according to the MIS survey, only 72.4% of rural households in Tamil Nadu had access to some form of toilet.

The share of ODF-plus villages in India improved to 34% as of March 12, 2023. The State-wise share is shown in Map 3.

While the SBMG dashboard does not track toilet access separately, the Swachh Survekshan Grameen survey (December 2021-April 2022) lists the percentage of households with access to toilets (Map 4). It concluded that in 28 States, the share of such households crossed 90% and India’s average was 95%, wildly different from the figures of the MIS survey completed six months earlier.