Households' access to sanitation in rural India

Providing access to sanitation facilities in rural areas has been on the agenda of the Government of India for around the past three decades. Schemes like the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP), 1986, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), 1999, Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP), 2003, Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA), 2004, Bharat Nirman, 2005, and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), 2012, aimed to improve the quality of life in rural areas, by accelerating the pace of sanitation coverage through renewed strategies, so as to achieve the vision of Nirmal Bharat by 2022. 
One of the major strategies to achieve the above objective was the provision of Individual Household Latrine (IHHL). IHHL comprises a cash incentive to Below Poverty Line (BPL) households and some categories of Above Poverty Line (APL) households that construct a toilet unit by themselves.
Later, the Ministry of Rural Development initiated the convergence of TSC/NBA with Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA).
Trends in Households’ Latrine Facility
According to the Census of India (Houselisting and Housing Census data), access to latrine facility within the premise of the household in rural areas witnessed an improvement from year 2001 to 2011. The proportion of households not having latrine facility within the premise fell from 78.1% to 69.3%. 
By 2011, of the 30.7% of the households having latrine facility within the premise, 19.4% had water closet and 11.3% had pit and other latrine facilities. Of the 69.3% of the households not having latrine facility within the premise in 2011, 1.9% used public latrine and 67.3% used open defecation. 
The absolute number of households having latrine facility within the premise rose by 21.2 million (from 30.3 million in 2001 to 51.6 million in 2011, that is, a decadal growth of 70.1%). However, the absolute number of households not having latrine facility within the premise rose by 8.3 million (from 108 million in 2001 to 116.3 million in 2011, that is, a decadal growth of 7.7%).
According to the National Sample Survey (NSS), Housing Condition Rounds (years 1993, 2002, 2008-09 and 2012), there has been an improvement in the access to latrine facility by rural households from 1993 to 2012, with an accelerated trend particularly after 2002. 
The proportions of households having No Latrine Facility in the house were 87.3%, 78.3%, 66.4% and 59.4% during 1993, 2002, 2008-09 and 2012, respectively. The compounded annual rate of decline of the proportions of households having No Latrine Facility in the house were found to be 1.1%, 2.6% and 3.0% between 1993-2002, 2002-2008-09 and 2008-09-2012, respectively. 
Other Official Estimates of Households’ Latrine Facility
For the purpose of assessment of the physical achievements of the IHHL as well as for social audit, real time data is periodically reported by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDW&S). 
During 2001-02 to 2010-11, it was reported that there has been rapid annual increase in the physical achievement of IHHL, followed by a declining trend during 2011-12 to 2013-14. The total progress of physical achievement of IHHL between 2001-02 and 2010-11 was 78.27 million (achievement of 72.5% of the total target of 108 million households as fixed by TSC based on Census 2001) and between 2001-02 and 2013-14 was 96.61 million (achievement of around 77% of the target of 125.7 million households based on the new target fixed under NBA). 
A Base Line Survey conducted by MoDW&S in 2012-13 based on entries by Gram Panchayats reported that 59.6% of the households are without toilets in their house (total households - 171.2 million and total households without toilet - 102.1 million). 
The Programme Evaluation Organization (PEO) was tasked by the Planning Commission in 2012 to conduct an independent Evaluation Study of the TSC. The aim was to assess the impact on individual health and environment with regard to the improvement of the sanitary services on different user groups, especially the rural poor. One of the significant findings of the study was that 72.63% households in rural India in the sample state practice open defecation irrespective of having or not having toilet facilities.
Discrepancies in the Sanitation Statistics
Information and data provided by the aforementioned official sources reveal marked inconsistencies. For instance, while the physical achievement of IHHL between 2001-02 and 2010-11 reported an addition of 78.27 million households having latrine facility, the Census reported addition of only 21.2 million of such households between 2001 and 2011. 
The gap of 57 million households in the addition of households having latrine facility during 2001 and 2011, between the physical performance of IHHL (78.27 million) and Census (21.2 million) is very huge, highly unlikely and also contrary. 
Other statistics from the NSS, Base Line Survey and Evaluation Study on TSC by PEO are also at variance with the figures provided by the physical performance of IHHL and suggest divergence and dissimilarity. It raises serious questions on the credibility of the rural sanitation statistics and information provided by the physical performance of IHHL, MoDW&S.
Furthermore, the differences between the estimates of households not having latrine facility by Census (69.3%) for 2011 and NSS (59.4%) for 2012 and Base Line Survey (59.6%) for 2012 raises question on the improvement occurred within one single year (2011-12). Census reports that there has been improvement of 9 percentage points in the proportion of households not having latrine facility within the premise falling from 78.1% to 69.3% from year 2001 to 2011. However, data from NSS and Base Line Survey for 2012 suggest improvement of 10 percentage points (over one year) as compared to the Census 2011 data. This suggests that the improvement in one year (2011-12) as reported from various sources may be spurious and requires serious and responsible attention for efficient research and future planning.
The Way Forward
Governments have invested heavily over the years in providing total sanitation for all, through several programmes like the CRSP, TSC, PURA, NGP, NBA and others. Though there has been an improvement in the proportion of rural households having latrine facility within the premise of the house as suggested by the Census and NSS data, yet the existing levels of deprivation is very high and alarming. 
A prominent concern is the increase in the absolute number of such deprived households as suggested by the Census data. It is a matter of great disappointment that the above objective has not been achieved till date, which further becomes worrisome as it remains a distant reality. 
While open defecation is a harbinger of innumerable deadly diseases, lack of latrines in the houses have given way to crimes against women and children. 
Thus, providing rural sanitation becomes imperative so as to enhance the quality of life of the people, and ensure sustainable development based on equity and justice. 
A reinvigorated thrust for providing adequate sanitation facilities in rural India is the need of the hour which must be accompanied by constant scrutiny and monitoring, so as to arrive at apt decisions and policies for further action. This would further consolidate India’s determination to achieve the Millennium Development Goals effectively and efficiently.
Arjun Kumar is currently a Research Affiliate and Visiting Faculty with Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi. 
His areas of interest are Housing, Basic Amenities and Applied Economic Development, topics on which he has written many articles for reputed journals.
Arjun Kumar
Arjun Kumar
He has recently submitted his PhD thesis at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was also a Doctoral Fellow (Economics) at Indian Council of Social Science Research, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India. He is also the Founder and President of Manavdhara – a youth social organisation that works for the holistic upliftment of humanity.
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