Sanitation Journey of India Toward Swachh Bharat

Image showing toilet build for both men and women under Swacch bharat mission in India

Sanitation is not an important issue for Indians!  That’s what colonial rulers in India thought. But they soon paid the price as diseases ran rampant due to unhygienic practices.

But contrary to colonial perceptions, the Indus Valley civilization, dating from 3300-1900 BCE, understood the importance of sanitation. Their territory, stretching from northeast Afghanistan into Pakistan and northwest India, boasted sophisticated and effective underground sewage and sanitation systems.

History of Sanitation in India:

In 322 BCE, during Chandragupta Maurya’s rule, one of India’s brightest minds, Chanakya, emphasized sanitation as a top priority. To him, clean water, proper sanitation, and good hygiene were non-negotiable. His book, the Arthashastra, covered various aspects of governance, including a series of policies and punishments to ensure that a swachh and swasth empire was maintained. 

For example, the book mentions, “The throwing of garbage and rubbish on the streets was forbidden and offenders were punished. There was no water-logging on the roads, lanes and by-lanes. It was the duty of residents to construct drains for cleaning stagnant water and any failure to do so was punishable with a fine.”

In Chapter 8 of the Arthashastra, fines of 12 panas were prescribed for owners of homes and buildings that provided annoyances or obstructions to others, such as in the form of encroachments, water hazards or dangerous pits. But, Chanakya admonished, “If the annoyance is due to faeces and urine, the fine shall be double the above. The watercourse or gutter shall offer free passage for water; otherwise the fine shall be 12 panas.”

His attitude towards enforcing cleanliness can also be found in Chapter 36. He says, “Whoever excretes faeces in places of pilgrimage, reservoirs of water, temples, and royal buildings shall be punished with fines rising from one pana and upwards in the order of the offences.”

Yet, during the colonial era, hygiene and sanitation took a back seat. Such basic issues like health & sanitation were never given priority by them. Therefore, even after independence, India was still struggling to become an open defecation-free (ODF) country. 

Uprooting the colonial ignorance towards sanitation:

However, realising the importance of sanitation, in 1986, India’s first sanitation program “Central Rural Sanitation Programme” launched which focused on the household toilets construction and promotion of the pour-flush toilets. However, this program lacks the focus on behavior change toward toilet use that led to the failure of the program.

After this, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which launched in 1999, aimed at making India ODF by 2017. But despite a lot of efforts and investments, nearly 72.63% of households in rural areas still defecate openly even though they have access to toilets.

During 1981–2008, Massive subsidies were also provided by the Government of India (GoI) for the eradication of open defecation (OD). Though GoI tried to subsidise the toilet construction cost, as per WHO report (2006),around 74% rural India still follows OD. 

Where there is a will, there is a way…

However, India didn’t give up on its hope to become an open defecation free country. So, in a race to catch up with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), GoI focused on the construction of toilets all over India and 2008–2019 can be referred to as the “sanitation coverage era” which can also be called as the exponential phase of Indian rural sanitation.

On the ocassion of Mahatama Gandhi’s 145th birth anniversary, government launched the ambitious ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India Mission) 2nd October 2014. The ‘Abhiyan’ was launched for all villages, Gram Panchayats, Districts, States and Union Territories in India declared themselves “open-defecation free” (ODF) by 2 October 2019, by constructing over 100 million toilets in rural India. 

PM’s speech at the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan

Not only the government, but the Indian film industry also tried to help people become aware of proper hygiene and sanitation to curb the health and social adversaries related to open defecation in rural areas. For example, ‘Toilet Ek Prem katha’ starring Akshay kumar and Bhumi Pedankar was a hit among Indian audiences. 

Is open defecation still a problem in India?

This can spark a debate!

In March 2020, the department launched Phase II of SBM-Gramin which will focus on ODF Plus. The tenure of its implementation was from 2020-21 to 2024-25 with an outlay of Rs 1.41 lakh crore. 

A toilet block stands in a village in Bhopal District, Madhya Pradesh, India. Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

ODF Plus includes sustaining the status of ODF (Open Defecation Free) and solid and liquid waste management. Its main aim was to ensure that every Gram Panchayat has effective solid and liquid waste management.

Some states & Union Territories with a 100% ODF Plus status are Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Puducherry, Telangana & Ladakh.

Image from Swachh bharat mission/ Facebook account

The Swachh Survekshan Rural Survey conducted between December 2021 & April 2022 reported an average of 95% of households with access to toilets across India. This data reflects a substantial increase in toilet access compared to previous years.

On the other hand, the Multiple Indicator Survey (MIS) data, conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation six months earlier, paints a different picture.

The MIS says that more than 21% of rural households in India do not have access to any type of toilet facility. Not even exclusive household latrines, communal facilities, or community toilets.

According to it, Jharkhand has the highest percentage of households without toilet access at 41.3%. This is followed by Odisha at 36.4%, Bihar at 33.4%, Madhya Pradesh at 28.3%, and Rajasthan at 28.1%.

Image from Multiple Indicator Survey conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation to find out the rate of toilet sanitation in Rural areas

Sanitation is undeniably crucial for our overall well-being and the development of our nation. It goes beyond just hygiene; it’s a fundamental human right that impacts public health, the environment, and economic growth. As responsible citizens, we play a pivotal role in achieving an open defecation-free country.

Here are ten NGOs in India that are working tirelessly towards Sanitation goal:

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign): A government-led initiative that focuses on building toilets and promoting cleanliness.

Sulabh International: Known for its innovative sanitation solutions, Sulabh has constructed millions of public toilets across India.

Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS): GRAVIS works in rural areas to improve sanitation and health, emphasizing community involvement.

WaterAid India: This organization provides access to clean water & sanitation services in urban and rural areas, aiming to transform lives.

WASH Institute: Specializing in water, sanitation, and hygiene, they implement programs that empower communities to manage their sanitation facilities.

Toilet First: Focused on urban sanitation, they build and maintain community toilets in slums and underprivileged areas.

Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD): SPWD works in rural India to promote ecological sanitation practices and raise awareness.

Society for All-round Development (SARD): SARD focuses on improving sanitation infrastructure and hygiene practices in rural communities.

SNEHI: A grassroots organization working towards sanitation and health awareness in urban and semi-urban areas.

Sampurn(e)arth Environment Solutions: This NGO promotes sustainable waste management and sanitation practices, reducing the burden on landfills.

By supporting & advocating the initiatives of these NGOs, we can collectively contribute to making India open defecation-free. It’s not just a matter of convenience but a crucial step towards a healthier, more prosperous, & dignified future for all. Let us take responsibility & be the change-makers in our communities to ensure a clean & hygienic environment for generations to come.

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