research institute for compassionate economics

Changes in open defecation in rural north India: 2014 – 2018

r.i.c.e., on January 4th, 2019

The paper reports on two surveys. The first survey visited rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh in late 2018. It 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 research sheds light on what the SBM did and on changes in open defecation since 2014. It is informative about changes because researchers revisited families who participated in a 2014 survey. Conclusions from the 2014 survey were published in EPW.

Much open defecation remains.

44% of rural people over two years old in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh defecate in the open. This is an improvement: 70% of rural people in the 2014 survey defecated in the open. Almost a quarter of people in households with latrines nevertheless defecate in the open (23% of rural people over the age of two). This fraction is unchanged from 2014.

In its activities and results, the SBM was diverse.

Across the four states, many new latrines were constructed. 57% of households without a latrine in 2014 had one by 2018. States differ in the percent of households that received government support for latrine construction. In Bihar, 19% received money, construction, or supplies from the government in the past five years to build a latrine. 53% did in Madhya Pradesh, 46% did in Rajasthan, and 43% did in Uttar Pradesh.

States also differ in whether households constructed latrines themselves or received them from contractors organised by local government officials. In Rajasthan, only 2% of households received a latrine built by contractors in the last five years; in Madhya Pradesh 25% did. In Uttar Pradesh this figure was 16% and in Bihar it was 9%. People in households that received money to build their own latrine, rather than a government-constructed latrine, were almost 10 percentage points less likely to defecate in the open.

If sustained, the SBM’s reduction in open defecation is likely to improve health, but it comes at a social cost.  Coercion and threats were commonplace and sanctioned by local officials; violence sometimes occurred.

Over half of respondents had heard of coercion in their village: 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 as households from other social backgrounds. Adivasis were almost three times as likely.

If sustained, the SBM’s reduction in open defecation is likely to improve health, but it comes at a social cost.  Coercion and threats were commonplace and sanctioned by local officials; violence sometimes occurred. Most respondents had heard of coercion in their village: 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 as households from other social backgrounds. Adivasis were almost three times as likely.

Download Published: Working Paper       Geography: North India