All posts by Nikhil Srivastav

“Mad rush for toilets under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan flouting citizens’ rights”, writes Kumkum Dasgupta from HT

photo credit: Nikhil Srivastav

On October 2nd, 2014, the prime minister of India announced his ambitious target of ending open defecation in India by 2019. Now, two and half years after the prime minister made the clarion call, Kumkum Dasgupta, the Associate Editor at the Hindustan Times, puts together evidence from across the country and finds that the “mad rush for the toilets under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan [is] flouting citizens’ rights.”

Many panchayats in the country have passed orders that those who do not have a latrine in their house will be denied certain government services –PDS ration, government documents, NREGA work, etc. While some other panchayats, in order to declare themselves open defecation free have opted the rout of harassing their fellow villagers.

Kumkum also uses our Social Attitudes Research for India (SARI) survey findings on awareness of Swachh Bharat Mission!


Read the article here.

r.i.c.e. article in THE WIRE

Swachh Bharat Mission since its inception has been facing a drought in terms of policy solutions. Given that 2019 is the target for achieving an open defecation free India, the program has already lived half of its life and yet has not managed to look beyond building latrines. While most of India lags in getting people to build latrines and use them, the government machinery continues to over publicize the “success islands”. The Government of India’s solution to 60% of the world’s open defecation problem is replicating what happened in these isolated places.

I visited Indore, India’s second open defecation free district, to understand what helped it reach this milestone and if there were lessons that Swachh Bharat Mission could learn from. I wondered: Could this be replicated in other parts of India? And, more importantly should it be replicated in other parts of the country?

To know more about the Indore experience read this article in THE WIRE .

Things Swachh Bharat Mission can learn from Yoga Day

yoga day

India, on Sunday morning, set two new Guinness World Records –for the most individuals performing Yoga at a single venue, and individuals from the largest number of nationalities performing it simultaneously. The prime minister took everyone by surprise when after delivering a short speech he came down from the stage and joined his fellow compatriots to practice yoga.

This is not the first successful campaign which Mr. Modi has led from the front; in fact, time and again he has proven his versatility of orchestrating large scale events. In this case the Ministry of AYUSH deployed available mediums of mass communication to sure widespread participation. It connected with people directly through SMSs, e-mail, on social media and in the form of TV and newspaper ads. All this bolstered the success of the event.

Yoga helps people to live a healthier life and the government did a fair job in promoting it. Ending open defecation would improve health in India a lot too, andwe feel that there is much that Swachh Bharat Mission can learn from International Yoga Day celebration.

  1. Keeping messages short and simple:Instead of keeping the agenda vague by talking generally about the physical and mental health the International Yoga Day campaign kept things simple for people and promoted a way of attaining the goal. In the same way the SBM,instead of talking about the general term ‘cleanliness’ should focus more on making people use latrine.Because of open defecation, 2-3 lakh children die every year in the country.


  1. Educating people on benefits of using a latrine: Our Prime Minister, who is admired by many as one of the best orators of his generation, similar to how he explained the world about the benefits of Yoga should more openly talk about ill-effects of open defecation.


  1. Prime Minister leading from the fore front: Though Mr. Modi started the Swachh Bharat Campaign by himself picking up the broom in Delhi, he can visit a village, on Gandhi Jayanti, this year and use a simple inexpensive government latrine to sets an example for his fellow citizens in rural India to follow. There were some reports that many people who got new government toilets in his own adopted village were not using toilets. He could personally use the toilet in his own adopted village.



We don’t clean toilets!

Anil K. Rajvanshi, an Indian academic and the Director of an agricultural institute in Maharastra, recently wrote an article titled ‘The Un-Swachh Truth’ in the Huffington Post. The points which the author takes up in the article resonate with our findings from the “switching study” that one reason people defecate in the open rather than use latrines is because they don’t want to deal with feces. In the article Dr. Rajvanshi reflects on one of the most difficult aspects of his job as director of the institute: trying to keep the toilets clean. Despite his efforts, the educated scientists in the institute remained reluctant to taking turns and cleaning the toilets themselves. In fact Dr. Rajvanshi said that even when he made it mandatory for people to clean the toilet, if they wanted to use it, most of his staff members chose to use the fields for almost two years.

Though the incident which Dr. Rajvanshi talks about is an anecdote, it is an important and meaningful one. In fact most people in rural north India have attitudes towards emptying their latrine pitsthat are similar to those of Dr. Rajvanshi’s staff towards cleaning toilets. Villagers similarly think it is not their job to empty the filled latrine pits, and they cannot imagine doing it themselves, even when there is no one else to do the job. Instead people choose to go and defecate in the open.

This similarity between the urban elites and the rural poor is surprising. It points the importance of ingrained ideas about purity and pollution for many Indians. For the Swachh Bharat initiative to succeed, in Rajvanshi’s words, ‘we need to think beyond constructing toilets. Our mindset needs to change before we can become a swachh and hygienic nation.’

We cook friendship here

A recent ad on Mid-day meal Scheme in India, made by UNICEF and uploaded on Youtube by Ministry of Human Resource and Development, is exciting. It shows little kids sitting together and enjoying nutritious meals offered in their schools. The lyrics of the ad are, yahan dosti khob pakti hai, meethi- meethi se lagti hai, which means, we cook friendship here and it tastes sweet.

Malnutrition is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in every three malnourished child in the world lives in India. To tackle malnutrition the Government of India is implementing its mid-day meal scheme, which offers meals in the state run or state assisted schools.  Proper nutrition in the early stages of life is critical to the development of the physical and cognitive potential of an individual. Abundant literature available on community health suggests, providing cooked meals at school reduces students’ protein, calorie and iron deficiencies.

In addition to its benefit of reducing malnutrition among children, the mid-day meal also promote social harmony by eroding caste prejudices and promoting equality. Cooked meals at school enable children from all castes and classes to share food, an act which many Indians, due to the archaic notions of purity and pollution, avoid in their daily life.

People in India consider certain things like feces, menstrual blood, dead bodies, etc to be polluting. This notion of pollution is not just limited to these things, which are seen as ‘filthy’ in most societies of the world, but it extends to certain people and their belongings as well.  Often a low caste person, whose forefathers had done work which required touching such things, and his belongings, are also seen polluting.

Although the ancient barbaric practices of avoiding touching and looking at low caste people have withered away, aversion towards sharing food or utensils with a low caste person is still prevailing in modern India. Upper caste Hindus avoid eating with low caste people, such as a people from the Nau, Dhobi, Pasi, Chamar and Valmiki castes.   People associate each caste with a certain type of work they do, even if it is not literally true that people from that caste continue to do only that type of work.

Some may think that these barbaric and inhuman practices are limited only to those belonging to upper castes but they are similarly pervasive among the lower castes as well. Bhasha Singh, a journalist who has meticulously cover caste and manual scavenging, writes in her book Unseen, “Both the so-called lower and upper castes are equally in the grip of feudal-Brahmanical thinking that endorses the Hindu concept of the four castes. And this has transcended the confines of Hinduism alone to become a way of thinking that pervades all of Indian society.”

During our field work, to understand the causes of failure of sanitation programs in rural India, we spoke to many people about caste, purity and pollution. A young man in a Pasi family in rural Uttar Pradesh told us, “If a low caste person [castes which are below pasis] sits on our stool we would not use it again… [Similarly] when we go and visit the Thakurs (an upper caste only below Brahmins), we are offered tea in a cup which is kept separate for the other low caste visitors [like us]…. Our ancestors have framed these rules and, if you think standing in the shoes of a villager, these things are better and should continue.” Similarly, Indian Muslims are also practice caste based discrimination. The reaction of a Muslim family, in rural India, on sharing food with a low caste person was, “We can’t feed them in our houses. We can’t feed them in our utensils… No one can eat the food cooked by them.”

Social hierarchy in contemporary India has shaped into a more complex nexus of discrimination. Muslims have an aversion to sharing food with a lower caste Hindu, upper caste Hindus have it for lower caste Hindus and both upper and lower caste Hindus are averse to sharing food with a Muslim.

These cases which we have discussed here are not simply anecdote, nor such incidents are confined to rural north India alone. In fact, a recent study done by NCAER and University of Maryland, conducted in over 42,000 households across India, found more than a fourth of Indians continue to practice untouchability in some form in their homes.

It is true that India still has a long journey before it shapes into a more equal and caring society. But at the same time small efforts like the mid-day meals are helping her to be one. May the sweet cooked friendship in schools last forever.


Wrong numbers: Attack on NREGA is misleading

recent article in the Times of India by Dilip Abreu, Pranab Bardhan, Maitreesh Ghatak, Ashok Kotwal, Dilip Mookherjee and Debraj Ray poses a rational argument against phasing out the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Here are some of the excerpts from the article.

The author’s say, “If, for the sake of argument, workers do currently earn Rs 80, it is only true that the gain for the NREGA worker is Rs 50. However, what matters is the gain, direct and indirect, for all workers. In this scenario, there will typically be a wage increase (though not “by leaps and bounds”, as attributed by BP to mysterious propagandists), which benefits all employed workers. This is possible even when NREGA employment is wholly concentrated in the slack season (if higher slack earnings tighten peak labour supply). Even small increases in the market wage translate into large aggregate benefits, given the size of the labour force under consideration.”

They also talk about the other non-transfer benefits of NREGA like assets creation and empowerment of women who work for NREGA, “Rural roads, soil conservation, flood control, groundwater recharge and land improvement projects may not shine as brightly as the smart cities BP so enthusiastically endorse, but they do contribute to India’s development. A recent study of over 4,000 NREGA assets across Maharashtra, by the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, found that most of them are valued by local residents…. for instance, empowerment of women who work in large numbers, reduction in distress migration and impact on schooling achievements.”

A lot of literature similar to these arguments is available for one to read. For instance, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen in their book ‘An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contractions’ write, “There has been a major slowdown in the growth of real agricultural wages in the post reform period: from about 5 per cent per year in the 1980s to 2 per cent or so in the 1990sand virtually zero in the early 2000s. It is only after 2006, when NREGA came into force, that the growth of real agriculture wages picked up again, especially for woman.”

In a different paper ‘Equilibrium Distributional Impacts of Government Employment Programs: Evidence from India’s Employment Guarantee’, Clement Imbert and John Papp write, “The introduction of the program, public employment increased by .3 days per prime-aged person per month (1.3% of private sector employment) more in early districts than in the rest of India. Casual wages increased by 4.5%, and private sector work for low-skill workers fell by 1.6%.”

You can read the full article published in the Times of India here.

An insightful look at the hurdels of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

Sreenivasan Jain: Is Swachh Bharat repeating mistakes of the past?

India’s proposed toilet revolution is all set to repeat mistakes of the past

Enter in Uttar Pradesh’s impoverished Sitapur district, and the toilets stand out in their striking white newness, one outside every home. We are told they came four months ago, under (NBA), the United Progressive Alliance-era scheme to build individual rural toilets, now replaced by the prime minister’s even more ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. On paper, the seemed unexceptionable: individual demands for toilets would be routed via a district level committee to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, which would release money into the account of the gram sabha: Rs 10,500 for each latrine. It was left to the beneficiary to decide the choice of contractor, size, design and so on. adopts roughly the same demand-driven model.

In Ramduari, however, the toilets had an unused air about them. The village continues to defecate along the banks of a nearby canal. We had come on a day when the clouds were dark with the prospect of rain. Isn’t there a risk of faeces being washed into the canal? Yes, they said. Some even drink the water, we were told, an admission that drew nervous giggles. But why not use toilets? Hadn’t they asked for it? No. They were built in one swoop by the village pradhan, identikit structures for the whole village, each roughly the size of a guard hut outside an urban bungalow. Even so, why not use them now that they are there? To this, there were no clear answers. Some suggested that they were poorly built (this was strictly not true, at least not in every case). Others had more legitimate doubts about how the toilets are meant to work. The design we came across was the basic Sulabh-tested flush latrine, with the waste emptying, successively, into two underground tanks. After three years, the waste in the tank can be emptied and used as compost. Did anyone explain any of this? Or the importance of using toilets? The health risks of open defecation? The answer was a resounding no.

This might have something to do with the fact that the the NBA spent only four per cent of the 15 per cent it kept aside for what is known as Information,(IEC). The envisaged army of evangelists at the state, district, block and gram sabha level, who would convince or shame the populace into using toilets via plays, workshops, training sessions and monitoring visits remained largely on paper.

Our experience in Sitapur seemed to broadly match the findings of a much-quoted survey on toilet usage (or the lack of it) by the Uttar Pradesh-based RICE Institute, which surveyed 3,200 households in five Indian states to find that in 40 per cent of households that had toilets, at least one person still defecated in the open. The reasons varied from the notion that doing the business outdoors was healthier, to a reluctance to use poorly constructedsarkari latrines.

Nipun Vinayak, today a deputy secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, is not a great believer in the subsidy-driven, nanny state approach to the toilet problem. As the CEO of the zilla parishad Jalna in Maharashtra and later as Municipal Commissioner of the city of Nanded, he was witness to the merits of a community-based approach (known as or CLTS) to ending open defecation, where the focus is entirely on triggering a collective shift in social attitudes. “You have to stand in the shit and ask questions of the village like ‘who’s shit is this? And ‘where has yesterday’s shit gone?’. At first, they think of this as drama, but then the community realises this is the same shit that is ultimately contaminating our water and we need to stop it.”

At the ministry, we were told that has its merits but cannot be scaled up, a contention that blithely ignores neighbouring Bangladesh that aggressively adopted the community model to reduce open defecation from 34 per cent to three per cent in 20 years.

Swachh Bharat’s budget is three times the amount under NBA, but is a smaller proportion – eight per cent – of the net budget. The construction budget, by comparison is seven times greater. The overall budget of about Rs 30,000 crore a year is roughly equivalent to NREGA, about whose efficacy the new regime seems to have developed grave doubts.

How will this multi-crore frenzy of construction be monitored, given the depredations of the past? The ministry has launched a new app that will allow beneficiaries to upload pictures of their newly constructed toilets onto its website. SBA’s target of 110 million toilets in five years amounts to one toilet every second. Three weeks after the scheme launched, the app showed about 29 uploaded images, mostly desultory views of the ministry’s offices – empty workstations and water coolers. Tiny lettering on the top right hand corner said the app was still in “demo stage”.

You can also read the full article here

Sangita Vyas presenting at the Hindustan Uniliver panel discussion on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

Our Associate Director, Sangita Vyas gave an illuminating presentation of the SQUAT findings and discussed the importance of behaviour change and monitoring latrine use. Other panelist at the session were Malini Mehra, founder and CEO of Centre for Social Markets, Mr. Sarasvati Prasad, Joint Secretory Ministry of drinking water and sanitation, Sanjeev Mehta from Uniliver, Raj Shah from USAID and Hand Washing Champion and Help a child reach 5 ambassador Kajol Devgan.

Costly sanitation campaigns, but very little to show for it

Ajai Sreevatsan of The Hindu in his meticulous analysis of the profligate sanitation programs in India, uses SQUAT survey and argues that constructing toilet alone is not enough. He says

“The Swachh Bharat mission would place overwhelming emphasis on constructing toilets, with plans afoot to build over a 100 million of them in rural areas alone in the next five years. But if prior experience is anything to go by, many of them would either not be built or not used. Unofficial studies like the SQUAT survey, which was done in five northern States, show that in at least 40 per cent of households with a newly built toilet, a member of the family was still defecating in the open. Cultural conditioning and tradition were some of the reasons for poor adoption, the survey found.

Despite strong evidence that shows constructing toilets alone is not enough, Swachh Bharat would carry forward the hardware-led solution that has been repeatedly tried by governments in the past.”

Read the full story here

The government chucked latrine use from ‘Sanitation Pledge’

The Government has decided that all of its citizens and the government employees will take a ‘sanitation pledge’ on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary this year.

Sanitation pledge_English

Though the biggest sanitation challenge faced by the country is its rampant open defecation, it could not make its place in the sanitation pledge. The urban priorities once again have outnumbered what rural India needed. Bharat has lost another battle to India.

Sanitation pledge_hindi


Does the IEC messaging on sanitation needs to change?

The government of India over the years has focused on latrine construction and its spending on behavioral change in the form of Information and Educations Campaigns (IEC) has been minuscule. Infact, the IEC spending between financial year 2013-14 were just 209 cr in comparison to 2518 cr spent on construction.

Figure 1

chart 4

The results of this lack of IEC spending and its non effectiveness can be seen clearly in the SQUAT data. In the SQUAT Survey, we asked people if they have ever heard or seen any messages on sanitation (in the form of wall paintings, street plays, fliers, posters, short films, etc). In figure 1, among all the people who participated in our survey, only 32% of the respondents had seen some form of sanitation message, and a majority of respondents (68%) had never seen one.

Figure 2

chart 5

Among the people who had seen IEC messages, we asked about the content of the message and.43% of the respondents (G+H) either said they remember it being some slogan or photo but do not remember what the slogan/photo was about or they do not remember the content at all. Another 25% (D+E) said that the message promoted latrines as enabling women’s modesty or as being beneficial to woman in some form. Only 12% of the respondents in the survey had been exposure to a correct message on the health benefits of latrine use.

These graphs not only point to the importance of increasing IEC spending on sanitation, they also highlight an important issue regarding the content of these messages. It’s important for the government to think seriously about what these messages contain because promoting some themes may actually do more harm than good. For instance, the IEC message focusing on women re-enforces gender inequality, endorses restricted mobility of woman in rural areas, and also distracts from the important message that everyone needs to use a latrine. The answer may not just be to advertise the health benefits of latrine use and so we need to do lots of experimentation.

Do religious leaders talk about defecation in India?

The SQUAT Survey teams randomly selected and interviewed around 3,200 rural households in over 300 villages in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

Figure 1

char 1

We asked people if their religious leaders have ever told them where they should defecate or where they should not. Among all respondents, both those who have a working latrine or those who do not, 47% of Muslim respondents and only 29% of Hindus said that their religious leaders have told them something about where they should or should not defecate. This trend does not change if we look at the subset of people who own government latrines or even for those who built their latrine spending their personal money.

Figure 2

chart 2

Another interesting finding (Figure 2) from the SQUAT data comes from when we asked people what specific messages on defecation they had heard from their religious leaders, if they had heard one at all. More Muslim respondents said that their religious leaders ask them to use a latrine than Hindu respondents. We also found the opposite: more Hindu respondents than Muslim respondents said that their religious leaders ask them to defecate in open. There was not much difference between Hindu and Muslim respondents in terms of religious leaders asking them to go far from their house for defecation.

Researches in the past have shown difference in latrine access between hindus and muslims. And if we account the negative externality of open defecation on India’s children it is worth exploring as to why the difference exists. These may be preliminary finding but they certainly point towards a direction where much more can be explored.

Government sanitaiton programs: Three times a failure

This is the story of government sanitation funding in one of the villages that the “switching study” visited in Fatehpur district in the end of January.

The village is large, even by Uttar Pradesh standards, and its population is diverse in terms of both religion and caste. Muslims, Brahmins and Thakurs live in the center of the village and low caste people tend to live on the edge of the village, along with some high caste people who have moved outside of the village also live on the edge of the village. The village is also inhabited by large numbers of monkeys, who steal food, and cause other problems for people.

In the past fifteen years the village has had three pradhans, or elected village leaders; for the first five years it had an upper caste pradhan, for the next five a scheduled caste pradhan, and now there is an pradhan from the “other backward castes” who lives in a different hamlet of the village. Funds tagged to several, government run sanitation programs got disbursed to the panchayat three times in the last 15 years. Simply looking at the amount of government resources that have been dedicated to latrines would paint a bright picture of sanitation in the village, but the actual story of sanitation is quite bleak: except for some upper caste Hindus and a few Muslim families (who have mostly made their own latrines), everybody defecates in open.

The first phase of latrine funding came some 12-13 years ago. It was tagged to Indira Awas Yojana, a program which gives poor villagers money to build brick houses and latrines. The number of latrines which were made then, and still exist today, is minuscule. One reason for this is that the pradhan and the secretary took a cut from the IAY funds that beneficiaries received. Since latrines are less of a priority for beneficiaries than houses are, people often took short cuts with the latrine construction. Government officials only “check” that latrine superstructures have been constructed, so people made superstructures to use as a bathroom, or to pee in, but did not invest their scarce resources in a pit that they considered large enough use for defecation.

The second phase of latrine funding came some 5-10 years ago. People were asked to put in a share of Rs. 400, and the government added its own share to build latrines. Then in July 2013, funds to make 254 new latrines came in the village. This funding likely came under the Uttar Pradesh government program, Sampoorn Swatchya Abhiyan. To our surprise, there are almost no new, functioning latrines visible in the village. We tried to enquire into the reason why people thought that these government sanitation programs had failed in their village. They pointed out that the programs give 2200 rupees per latrine, which is not enough to make a latrine that people are likely to use. So the pradhan and the beneficiary each take a share out of the money, and simply erect a small superstructure for show, in case someone comes to enquire. A well educated scheduled caste family living at the edge of the village told us: “It solely depended on the beneficiary if s/he would invest the disbursed funds in the latrine or not…. people have just made the superstructures with a small pit and do not use it at all… they use the remaining funds for some other private expense.”

There are a very small number of government latrines that are in use in the village; these tend to be located in the center of the village, in upper caste households. They are used by women, whose movement is socially restricted and disabled or older people, who are unable to go out and defecate in open due to difficulty in walking. In families which have made their latrines with their own money, it is more likely that all the members of the household use them. The main difference between privately constructed latrines and government latrines is that when people construct latrines with their own money, they build much larger pits.

Indeed, pit size emerged as the main reason that people gave when explaining why they do not use government latrines, which were referred to as “temporary” by many people. An IAY beneficiary, whose government latrine had only a superstructure but no pit, said: “How could we use something with such a small pit?…it would be dirty…gas would come up and out [into the superstructure] because there is no space in there…in a big tank it is OK to put in a [gas] pipe…. the pit should have been at least 8 feet deep.” A person from the low caste hamlet who had received a government latrine said, “The latrine was not made well, that is why we go outside…a good latrine should have a pit at least 8 feet deep.”

These quotations suggest that villagers do not find inexpensive latrines with small pits acceptable: they would either like to use an expensive latrine with a large pit, or would go out and defecate in open. People also feel troubled in using small pit latrine because they say it smells and would need to be cleaned soon. They seemed to feel that pit cleaning would be a major problem since it would involve calling the “machine” from the city, which would be very costly and cumbersome. They were concerned that small pits also overflow in the rainy season and have less water absorbing capacity.

The experiences of the few households that used their government latrines suggest that these are misconceptions on the part of the villagers: government latrines (at least those which were constructed for high caste people) actually seem to work just fine and last a long time. However, in order to attain the total sanitation in rural India, these views need to be respected and addressed by both the governments and NGOs working in sanitation.

An IAY latrine in which both the pit and the superstructure were constructed.  Cement has been poured in the pan, and the superstructure is used to wash clothes.
An IAY latrine in which both the pit and the superstructure were constructed. Cement has been poured in the pan, and the superstructure is used to wash clothes.