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Can Uttar Pradesh Ever Climb Its Sanitation Ladder?

Blog Post3 min read

The recent rape case of two minor girls in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh has called forth a need for toilet construction for women. Perhaps, there is an urgent need for toilets (for men as well as women) but more than that we need to promote their use through a sound political agenda. But for a state like Uttar Pradesh, this seems like a pie in the sky.

Since this is my native state, I want to share some of the highlights of the SQUAT fieldwork from here and show why the state has failed miserably in climbing the sanitation ladder. To begin with, the economic and social development of the state has suffered due to its administratively cumbersome size, lack of effective leadership and a long history of identity politics. It is also one of the most impoverished states of India with high child mortality rates, low female literacy rates and high population density. In terms of sanitation also, the state suffers from a crisis. About one-eighth of the total defecators in the world live in the state of Uttar Pradesh alone. As in other north Indian states, people in Uttar Pradesh often prefer to defecate in the open but the state’s unique political milieu has also contributed to the sanitation emergency.

After the demise of mainstream national parties in the state, two parties rose to power: Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, the first relying on Dalits/lower caste supporters and the second on the not-so-backward Yadav caste (constitutionally a backward caste in India). Ever since, the two have been in constant conflict with one another, yet in an unusual harmony such that one party takes over from other in each 5 year term.

Given their different vote banks, the two parties have different approaches towards rural development also, each favoring its own supporters. During the course of the SQUAT survey in Uttar Pradesh, we had the chance to visit Ambedkar villages which were targeted by BSP and Lohia villages which were targeted by SP. The differences between these villages are not just interesting but also useful to better understand the state’s poor performance in terms of sanitation.

The Ambedkar villages we visited were chosen under Dr. Ambedkar Gram Vikas Yojana. The scheme was started by ex-CM Mayawati, who is herself a Dalit, to uplift the status of the lower caste people. Even the name was politically motivated and symbolized the icon of Dalit emancipation. But as soon as Akhilesh Yadav came to power in 2012, he scrapped the scheme by calling it castist and started a new scheme called Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Samagar Gram Vikas Yojana, which targeted the backward classes instead of SCs and STs. The name of this scheme was just as politically symbolic, harkening to the socialist thinker, though in practice the party has been promoting goondaraaj.

While the beneficiaries in both the schemes are different, the idea is quite the same: to augment the process of rural development. Toilet construction is an important component in both. Despite that both of the programs have a misguided theory of change that focuses on construction rather than use, Ambedkar villages seem to be doing better than Lohia villages. The Ambedkar villages we visited had toilets but only few were in use. Some people complained of having no door, or a small pit or no pit at all. The Lohia villages were even more disturbing. Very few villages covered under Lohia Samagara Gram Vikas Yojana had gotten toilets so far. The few toilets that had been built had walls as low as two feet. Though the present CM’s tenure is ongoing, I don’t expect him to perform miracles in another two years. Nonetheless, both the villages have done nothing to promote the toilet use.

In the village leader surveys as well, I observed that the local leaders of UP used to complain of the lack of cooperation by the state government for building toilets. They used to blame one or the other party saying that the constant back and forth between the BSP and SP always affects the flow of funds for implementation of policies in their village.

Now, if the trend continues in the next state election in 2017, Mayawati or someone from her party may be reelected. Or there is a small chance that the BJP will replicate its landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and come to power in Lucknow. Well, whoever wins or whatever happens, we just hope that the new government will design policies in line with the needs of the state, not according to identity politics. A mass movement with a clear and consistent messaging is what UP needs to solve the large scale problem of open defecation. Let that message be strong enough to survive the political back and forth of UP’s two notorious parties!


r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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