India’s fight against open defecation heading towards failure – says new CSE study

The country aims at being open defecation-free by 2019 

For that, it has to build toilets for 6.4 crore families 

But the numbers might be much larger - as about 79 lakh existing toilets are in an unusable condition

For India (and the world) to go open defecation-free, four Indian states will need to clean up their act: Bihar, Odisha Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand

Patna, August 31, 2017: Together, these four states account for a massive 60 per cent of the people in India who defecate in the open. Unless these states become open defecation-free, the world – and India – cannot meet their ODF (open defecation-free) goals, says a new analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body. 

According to an UN report of 2014, out of one billion people defecating in open in the world, 60 per cent are from India. While India has resolved to meet its goal in 2019, the world has targeted to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of being open-defecation free by 2030.

Sunita Narain, director general, CSE released the findings of the study here today in a media briefing attended by some selected journalists from the four states. Some highlights of the new study have been featured in Down To Earth Hindi, the Hindi language environment-development monthly which CSE helps publish.

Speaking on the occasion, Narain said: “It is one thing to build toilets, quite another to ensure they’re being used. Besides motivating people to change, concrete steps -- other than those that deter them from defecating in the open -- will have to be taken. These will include repairing / rebuilding unusable toilets, and incentivising behavioural change.”

How the four states fare, according to the CSE study

BIHAR: Worst record
Under the Swacch Bharat Mission, Bihar will have to build toilets for some 202 lakh families. At the moment, says the CSE study, the state has thepoorest record in terms of rural sanitation. Out of the 6.4 crore households without toilets in the country, 22 per cent are in Bihar. Till June 2017, around 70 per cent of its population was yet to get access to toilets. More than 50 per cent of girls miss school in Bihar due to absence of proper toilets in schools.

Says Sushmita Sengupta, the lead researcher behind the CSE study: “The state has focused on building toilets at break-neck speed -- without making people aware of them, without ensuring that these toilets are functional and are used.” Of the 16 lakh toilets built under the campaign in Bihar, 50 per cent were completed in the fiscal year 2016-17. But against the 8 per cent that was allocated for intensive IEC (information, education and communication) programme, only 0.18 per cent was spent in 2016-17.

Around 99 per cent of the expenditure of the state has gone towards building of toilets. However, the abysmal quality of the toilets built has meant that their usage has been very low. Says Sengupta: “Bihar has converted less than 1 per cent of the total dysfunctional toilets in the country into functional ones.”

Even as the state continues to build more toilets, CSE’s research findings show that the target of 100 per cent household toilet coverage in Bihar will happen only by 2033. In fact, all the constituencies of Bihar’s leading cabinet ministers are defaulters  -- none of the districts in which these constituencies are located in can achieve the target by October 2019, says the CSE analysis (Table for a rating of some of Bihar’s key ministers). 

Take the case of Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi’s constituency, Bhagalpur. If the district wants to achieve 100 per cent target by 2019, it will have to construct 534 toilets every day! At the rate that is has been constructing toilets in 2016-17, it can achieve 100 per cent target only by a distant 2033. Similarly, Nalanda, the constituency of Bihar’s rural development and parliamentary affairs minister, will reach 100 per cent target not before 2028. If it wants to touch the finish line by 2019, it will have to build a humungous 554 toilets every day!

UTTAR PRADESH: Lopsided logic
Around 54 per cent of the people in rural Uttar Pradesh (UP) defecate in the open. Of the 6.4 crore households needing toilets, 23 per cent are in UP. 

The primary focus, as in Bihar, lies on building toilets. In 2016-17, the state built around 17.41 lakh toilets. However, usage has not picked up due to slow disbursal of funds, rampant corruption, and lack of basic necessities like water (especially during summers).

What’s more, the lion’s share of the toilets have been built in villages near the Ganga – leaving the river exposed to the threat of severe contamination from polluted groundwater as well as streams that run into it. The state has spent money on building toilets without giving a thought to managing the excreta, points out the CSE report.

ODISHA: Innovative uses
Only 40 per cent of the 90 lakh families living in rural Odisha have access to toilets. Some districts have achieved 100 per cent coverage – Puri is one example. However, many of the toilets being built are being used as store houses for fodder, found CSE researchers! 

According to the report, Odisha residents have almost no control over deciding where a toilet should be built. Wrong design, lack of water, insufficient awareness – all contribute to low usage. In some areas, which already face a shortage of drinking water, people are skeptical of how water will be supplied to toilets. 

JHARKHAND: Relatively better picture
Compared to the other three states, Jharkhand is doing relatively better – 53 per cent families have access to toilets, and about 73 per cent of the 4,402 village panchayats have been a part of various awareness campaigns on the issue of rural sanitation.

One of the reasons behind Jharkhand’s relative success is the involvement of local communities and bodies such as women’s self-help groups; these communities and bodies have helped create awareness among residents, and have also monitored the toilet construction process. The state is also moving forward on putting in place better wastewater and solid waste management systems, says the CSE study. 

Much needs to be done
In her address, Narain summed up the situation thus: “The real success of the drive to make India open defecation-free can only be measured by the number of people who find it worthwhile to use the toilets that we are building. While flawed toilet technology, shortage of basic resources such as water, and lack of administrative will remain at the core of factors pulling these states away from becoming ODF, our report suggests that it is imperative to educate communities (for whom these toilets are being built), build provisions for better wastewater and solid waste management, and focus on re-use and recycling to achieve tangible results.” 

For interviews and other details, please contact Vrinda Nagar of The CSE Media Resource Centre, / 9654106253.

To access the presentations and reports etc released and discussed at the briefing and subsequent meetings, please visit our website,

For the Hindi press release and Bihar minister’s rating chart, please visit the same website.