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Open Defecation in India: Successes and Challenges [Mains Articles]

Swacch Bharat Mission is at a unique juncture where historic changes related to collective behaviour change and improving the practice of defecation unfolded in lakhs of villages across States. A number of India’s states took pioneering bold new initiatives to tackle the menace of open defecation.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
December 13, 2019


  • Introduction
  • What is Open Defecation?
  • Open Defecation scenario in India
  • Challenges in ODF
  • ODF Status of Disadvantaged communities
  • UNICEF Initiatives against open defecation in India
  • About Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin
  • Reason behind the success of SBM-G
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion

Open Defecation in India: Successes and Challenges

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India through the launch of Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) has created that rare window of opportunity that could improve the quality of life for its citizens and lay the foundations for a truly prosperous future. Though SBM-Garmin, In the past four years, India has built 100 million toilets in about 0.6 million villages and another 6.3 million in cities.


What is Open Defecation?

Open Defecation

  • Open defecation refers to the practice whereby people go out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet to defecate.
  • Poor sanitation also cripples national development: workers produce less, live shorter lives, save and invest less, and are less able to send their children to school.

Open Defecation scenario in India


  • India has been declared open defecation free (ODF) on 2nd October 2019 by Prime Minister of India.

As per National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) 2018-19


  • 93 % of households were found to have access to toilets
  • 5% of the people who had access to toilets used them
  • 7% of villages which were previously declared and verified as ODF were confirmed to be ODF. The remaining villages also had sanitation coverage of about 93%.
  • 4% of the villages surveyed found to have minimal litter and minimal stagnant water.
  • 99 % of the toilets were found to be well maintained, hygienic and in 100 % of these toilets, excreta were safely disposed.

NARSS 2018-19 conducted survey on four types of toilet: Own toilet (exclusively used by members of the household), ii) Shared toilet (toilet used by multiple families), iii) Community toilets: (toilet is open to the general public) and iv) No toilet access.

National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) 2018-19 1

Challenges in ODF

  • Even if toilets are built and people have started using these, the trend can reverse in no time. In Haryana, declared ODF in 2017, people started old habit of open defecation.
  • National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) 2018-19 uses an inadequate definition of safe disposal. It defines safe disposal if the toilet is connected to a septic tank with a soak pit, single or double leach pit, or to a drain. The fact is that this is only a system for containment of the excreta, not its disposal. It assumes that the toilet will safely decompose the excreta in-situ.
  • Open defecation may be a consequence of the caste prejudices that continue to exist. Practices like untouchability and belief of ritual purity of certain caste groups has exacerbated issues of lack of access to toilets and poor maintenance of existing toilets.
  • Lack of credible assessments

ODF Status of Disadvantaged communities

  • Disadvantaged communities often lack access to better sanitation practices and infrastructure that support it.

As per National annual rural sanitation survey (NARRS) 2018-19, in ODF areas, majority of households were of other backward category (38.9%) followed by General category (32.4%) and ST (13.6%) while in non-ODF areas, OBC households were in majority (46.9%) followed by general category households (27.0%) and ST households (12.8%).

ODF Status of Disadvantaged communities

ODF Status of Disadvantaged communities 1

Major reasons for lack of toilet use among the disadvantaged are:

  • Inadequate representation in the Panchayat,
  • Campaigns in the village that do not extend to hamlets that house disadvantaged communities,
  • Construction of poor-quality toilets and
  • the general discrimination faced by them that leads to several other exclusions.

UNICEF Initiatives against open defecation in India

CATS Pilots

UNICEF in India has introduced pilots of Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) in six states, to demonstrate how grassroots methods can be harnessed to deliver open defecation free (ODF) communities quickly and with quality.

WASH in Health Centres

UNICEF in India is working in collaboration with the Health ministry to map WASH (Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene) compliance in health facilities in the most deprived districts.

Communication support

WASH provided technical support to the Government of India to develop the national Sanitation and Hygiene, Advocacy and Communication Strategy (SHACS).

This strategy has been contextualised by all states that have a UNICEF presence and district implementation plans have been developed in all states ready for rollout. UNICEF is also providing technical inputs to the India chapter of the Global Inter-faith WASH Alliance (GIWA), to plan its programme of strategies including outreach to create demand for toilets. 

Poo2Loo campaign

UNICEF’s WASH, and Advocacy and Communication sections developed the Poo2Loo campaign, which address the population of young Indians who have a toilet at home, in order to sensitize them to the plight of those who do not have toilets, and create a youth social movement to stand up and advocate for the need for everyone to have a toilet.

About Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin

Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin

  • The aim of Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) was to achieve a clean and Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2nd October, 2019.
  • It also seeks to generate awareness to motivate communities to adopt sustainable sanitationpractices, and encourage the use of appropriate technologies for sanitation.
  • The States and their implementing agencies will be given incentives for meeting performance standards: reducing open defecation, sustaining their open defecation-free status and improving solid and liquid waste management in rural areas.

Key Features of SBM-G

Focus on Behaviour Change


Behaviour change has been the key differentiator of Swachh Bharat Mission and therefore emphasis is placed on Behaviour Change Communication (BCC). Emphasis is placed on awareness generation, triggering mindsets leading to community behaviour change and demand generation for sanitary facilities.

Flexibility to States

States have flexibility regarding the utilization of the Individual Household Latrine (IHHL) incentive.


An army of ‘foot soldiers’ or ‘Swachhagrahis’, earlier known as ‘Swachhata Doots’ is engaged through existing arrangements like Panchayati Raj Institutions, Co-operatives etc. as a sanitation workforce.

Sanitation Technologies

Sanitation Technologies

An illustrative list of technology options, with cost implications is provided to meet the user preferences and location-specific needs. Properly constructed Twin-Pit is considered the most preferred technology.

ODF+ and ODF++

Open Defecation Free (ODF) flagship is taken ahead by ODF+ and ODF++.


  • ODF+ protocol says that a city, ward or work circle could be declared ODF+ if, “at any point of the day, not a single person is found defecating and/or urinating in the open, and all community and public toilets are functional and well-maintained.


  • A city / ward / work circle can be notified/ declared as SBM ODF++ city/ SBM ODF++ ward/ SBM ODF++ work circle if, at any point of the day, not a single person is found defecating and/or urinating in the open, all community and public toilets are functional and well maintained.
  • Cities that have been certified SBM ODF+ at least once shall thereafter be eligible to declare themselves as SBM ODF++ and apply for certification of SBM ODF++ status.

Why Open Defecation + and Open Defecation ++?

  • To ensure the sustainability and long term impact of the ODF status.
  • The SBM ODF+ and SBM ODF++ protocols build upon the ODF protocol while keeping true to its provisions, so as to provide a platform for cities and towns to improve sanitation sustainability.

Reason behind the success of SBM-G

Political leadership

  • Prime minister India invested his personal political capital in the mission. Inspired by his leadership and commitment, various chief ministers took up the cause, cascading leadership to the chief secretary and in turn to collectors, all the way down to grassroots level.

Public financing

  • Over Rs 1 lakh crore was committed to ensuring universal access to sanitation. About 90 % of the 10 crore households which received toilets were from socially and economically weaker sections of society and they received financial incentives to build and use toilets.


  • The SBM (G) partnered with implementors and influencers alike — national and international development agencies as well as all departments of the government of India, who pledged an additional $6 billion for sanitation in their respective sectors.

Peoples’ participation

  • The SBM-G trained over half a million swachhagrahis, grassroots motivators, who triggered behaviour change in every village of India.

Other factors

  • SBM-G brought in a unique blend of young professionals and experienced bureaucrats.
  • It attempted to devise solutions which are easy to implement, like the on-site twin-pit toilet systems for rural India, as opposed to expensive networked sanitation solutions. By providing flexibility to states and implementers by design, the mission allowed them to tailor solutions to local contexts.
  • SBM-G firstly targets the districts with the highest sanitation coverage, to become ODF. This created a demonstration effect for others to learn from, and created belief in the system.
  • SBM-G visited each state multiple times and engaged directly with district collectors, promoting healthy competition among implementers.
  • SBM-G made sanitation glamorous by engaging extensively with the media, leveraging popular culture, and associating Bollywood stars, sportspersons and other influencers.

Suggestions for SBM-G

  • Need to include people who still lack toilets, overcome partial toilet use, and retrofit toilets which are not yet sustainably safe.
  • More attention to solid and liquid waste management
  • While construction of toilets has rapidly increased, government must make concentrated efforts to ensure adequate representation of disadvantage communities during design of campaigns and efforts.


Since the launch of SBM-G in October 2014, the world’s largest sanitation program has changed the behaviour of hundreds of millions of people with respect to toilet access and usage.

The next ambitious goal announced recently by PM of India is to ensure piped water supply to all households by 2024. This will be an additional shot in the arm for SBM-G’s sustainability efforts.


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