All posts by Nazar Khalid

Reducing open defecation in rural India is an important human development goal, but at what cost? Read Sangita’s piece in Hindustan Times

Sangita’s article in Hindustan Times raises some pertinent questions about the ways in which the Swachh Bharat Mission has been implemented. She draws attention to the fact that the Mission’s success in getting latrines constructed and the subsequent decline in the practice of open defecation has come about through the use of threats and coercion.
In a survey of four north Indian states, every second person had heard of fines, denial of government benefits, and being stopped from defecating in the open, being used as tools to compel latrine construction and use in their own village. Some people were denied their rations, pensions, and other government benefits. Moreover, the survey finds that the use of force had a visible caste angle to it: Dalits were twice as likely while Adivasis were thrice as likely to be at the receiving end of threats and coercion.
The implementation of the SBM has come at a cost to certain fundamental rights. She argues, “[T]he tactics employed by the SBM present important trade-offs that require public debate. Evaluating these trade-offs will at the very least require understanding how many people have been hurt because of the SBM, and how much it has accelerated the decline in open defecation. Reducing open defecation in rural India is an important human development goal, but at what cost?” Read more

Dainik Bhaskar, a prominent Hindi newspaper, reports on our new research on changes in open defecation in India: 2014-2018.

The Dainik Bhaskar (DB), a prominent Hindi language newspaper, published a comprehensive report on r.i.c.e and Accountability Initiative of Centre for Policy Research’s (CPR) new research on changes in open defecation in India: 2014-2018. We were thrilled that the DB helped us share this research with millions of readers by carrying this report in several editions across India.  Here is the photo of the article. You can also find it here

For our non-Hindi readers, here are the main points covered in the DB report:

44 % people in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Uttar Pradesh (UP), Rajasthan and Bihar continue to defecate in the open, although this is an improvement of 26 per cent from what it was in 2014. This proportion remains despite MP and Rajasthan being declared open defecation free (ODF), and Bihar and Rajasthan are soon to be declared one!

The research survey visited 120 villages and covered about ten thousand people. Of the households that didn’t own a latrine in 2014, 57 % of them have a toilet now. However, the survey found the use of coercive tactics and force by the government machinery. People were threatened with the ration cuts or fines and were forced to build latrines; compared to General caste people, Dalits were twice as likely, and Adivasis were thrice as likely to face coercion.

The paper carried excerpts from their interview with Aashish: Caste system and untouchability are key reasons why open defecation exists in India. People believe that the task of cleaning toilets is reserved for those belonging to a specific caste. Therefore, these notions need to be tackled first.

Coercion is common; 56 per cent people in our survey admitted knowing about the threats and coercive tactics. In Bihar, one person was jailed for fifteen days, and his family had to pay a tip of 10000 to seek his release. In MP police visited those families who had refused to construct latrines. In Rajasthan, people were told that if they fail to build latrines then not only will their rations, pensions and other government benefits be stopped, their children’s names will also be taken out from the school registers. In UP there were orders by the district magistrate (DM) to stop people’s rations, and use other means to frighten people into constructing latrines.

The paper also reports that 23 % people (20 % women and 25 % men) defecate in the open despite owning a latrine. Overall, 39 % in UP, 60 % in Bihar, 25 % in MP and 53 % in Rajasthan defecate in the open, thus taking the total average to 44.

Open Defecation is responsible for the deaths of about two lakh children, every year, even before they reach their fifth birthday. It is the reason why the average height of Indian children is shorter compared to those of the poorer countries. Dean’s research shows that bacteria in the faecal matter hinder not only the physical but cognitive health of children as well. There is abundant research that shows that shorter people earn less than their taller counterparts.

The report also includes excerpts from Nazar’s interview: Government has shown haste in declaring the states as ODF. Post this declaration, the programs which are directed at motivating people to adopt toilets stop; MP and Rajasthan are clear examples of this, where such programs are no longer active. In such a situation, many more children would continue to see death.

Release of r.i.c.e and Accountability Initiative’s research study “Changes in open defecation in rural north India: 2014-2018.”


r.i.c.e is delighted to share that the release of the new research study on “Changes in open defecation in rural north India: 2014-2018” was held at India Habitat Centre (IHC) on the 9th January 2018.

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with the Accountability Initiative (AI) of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), reports on the findings from the two surveys.  The first survey visited rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh in late 2018, and collected data on 9,812 people and interviewed 156 local government officials. The second survey, in Udaipur district, visited 505 households in 19 villages and 60 households in 2 census towns.   This new study sheds light on what the Swachh Bharat Mission did and on changes in open defecation since 2014. It is informative about changes because researchers revisited families who participated in a 2014 survey.

Sangita presented the main findings from the research.  Broadly, these are:

  • the Swachh Bharat Mission has built a lot of latrines: 57% of   households without a latrine in 2014 had one by 2018;
  • this has reduced open defecation more quickly than before but open defecation is by no means eliminated: 44 %of rural people over two years old in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh defecate in the open;
  • and reductions may not be sustained, as it happened through threats and coercion: people being stopped while defecating in the open, government benefits being threatened, and fines. Among households that own a latrine, Dalits are over twice as likely to report experiencing one of these three forms of coercion. Adivasis were almost three times as likely.

Find Sangita’s presentation slides here. The working paper on the study is available here.

It was amazing to see a large turnout for the event and lively post-presentation discussions.

The study has been covered in The Hindu, Livemint, Firstpost, IndiaSpend, Swarajya, The Wire, Scroll, BloombergQuint, Dainik Bhaskar and Navbharat Times among others.  We’ll be updating the “News” section of the website as more articles come out!

Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen releases a commendable ad to promote twin pit latrines!

The Swacch Bharat Mission Grameen recently launched an advertisement campaign video with Hindi movie stars Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay Kumar. In the video the actors educate viewers about how twin pit latrines work. The ad also teaches viewers how the decomposed feces can be used for greater farming benefits and prosperity.
An important feature of the ad which distinctly stands out is that Akshay Kumar touches the decomposed feces with his own hands. We know from years of field research that misplaced beliefs and untouchability-related barriers around handling of feces is one important reason why such a high fraction of the Indian population still defecates in the open. The message of this advertisement is therefore really important, and its makers should be commended.

For the readers who don’t understand Hindi, here is a translation of the dialogues from the video.
Mishra [M]: [In an astonished tone] So many varieties of flowers and fruits…this is incredible!
Akshay Kumar [AK]: It’s all because of the latrine Mishra.
M: [surprised and with a disgusted look on his face] LATRINE?
Bhumi Pednekar [BP]: [disapproving of Mishra’s tone and disgusted face] Yes, the latrine..and that also with two pits.
BP: I had made it clear to him at the time of our marriage, seven years ago, that if there is no toilet in the house then I wouldn’t marry him.
AK: And what did I say then? If I get a toilet, it must be one with the twin pits.
M: [surprised] Two pits…why?
AK: One pit will get filled in five years with regular use. After that, start using the other pit by changing the lever.
M: What is the need to do all this…why not empty the filled pit itself and then start using again? They are just feces.
AK: These are not just feces…these are gold!
M: [Disgusted facial gesture] chhee chhee (eww)
AK: If this pit is closed and left for a year…this will turn into gold.
BP: [with a tray of decomposed feces] That is, sonkhaad (gold in the form of manure).
AK: [lifts the decomposed feces by his hands from the tray] Spread this sonkhad in your field and then experience the blessings of the latrine.
M [convinced and excited] Even I am going to build a latrine with two pits.
BP: [handing Mishra a tray full of fruits and vegetables] Give this to your wife as gift from us.
AK: This is a gift from the land, Mishra.
AK and BP [together]: The best latrine is one that has two pits.

Hunger and health: Royal Economic Society video highlights prize-winning r.i.c.e. research

In last few decades, India has seen a declining household per capita average calorie consumption. This throws a puzzle, as over the same time people in India have gotten richer. Dean and Josephine investigate how India’s improving disease environment can explain part of the calorie decline.
Their research matches data on infant mortality rates (IMR) and open defecation with survey data on per capita calorie consumption. They find that between 1988 and 2004-05, districts that had a larger decline in IMR saw a larger decline in household per capita calorie consumption. Also, those households that live in villages where more of their neighbours defecate in open are also the ones that eat more calories on average.
An implication of this research is that as more households use toilets, then the food that government provides to them can be used more efficiently and there could even be cost savings. Not only will children be healthier and more likely to survive, they will also have better nutritional outcomes. Additionally, the money that the government spends on food subsidies can also be put to better use. Access this article here 

Dean talks to the Institute of Development Studies on what motivated ‘Where India Goes?’

In this short interview, Dean talks to the IDS about what motivated him and Diane to write their book “Where India Goes: Abandoned toilets, stunted development, and the cost of caste.” While the book addresses the puzzle of widespread open defecation in rural India, originally, they were interested in a different puzzle- the puzzle concerning child health and well-being in India.  The statistical data, for example, revealed that India had a higher neonatal mortality and shorter children compared to many other developing countries with lower per capita incomes. In their effort to learn about child health they stumbled at the puzzle of open defecation in rural India.

There is a number of things that make situation tough for children in India. The lower status of women, for instance, means that young mothers do not eat a lot which shows in the health of their babies. Another important reason for this is sanitation and disease environment. India is a place with a very high density of population on one hand and a lot of open defecation on the other hand. Together, they create an environment, especially in rural parts of the northern states, where an awful lot of children are exposed to their neighbor’s open defection and their germs.

Where India goes is, in part, an attempt to share what they learned about open defecation and how important it is for children’s health and development, and for the population that they grow into. There is another important motivation for writing it: to share what they learned about why there is open defecation in rural India. The ideas of purity and pollution in the caste system and how people think about latrine pits filling up and needing to be emptied influence people’s behavior on the use of pit latrines that many are happy to use in other developing countries.

Aadhaar, biometrics, and the PDS in Jharkhand

Check my new article on ideas for India website.
The Public Distribution System plays an important role in the lives of poor people in Jharkhand. They tend to keep their ration cards safely, go to the ration shop every month without fail, and get angry when the local PDS dealer cheats them. The reason is not difficult to understand: in their fragile and uncertain lives, the PDS provides a modicum of food and economic security.

Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) is now compulsory for most users of the public distribution
system in Jharkhand. In this paper, I argue that “the success of ABBA depends on the simultaneous functioning of undependable technologies such as the PoS machine, remote Aadhaar servers, fingerprint recognition devices, and internet connectivity.The analysis of digital records, along with independent survey data, provides us with some important insights on the impact of the new system on the PDS in Jharkhand, and it’s only in the combination of digital records and the survey data, such as Drèze et. al. (2017, paper ), that a clearer picture emerges. Even in Ranchi district, a relatively ‘favourable environment’ for these technologies to function, the failure rates are considerable. This raises serious questions about the appropriateness of this technology for the PDS, especially in areas like rural Jharkhand.”