35 districts of India declared open defecation-free; 2.5 crore toilets constructed in last 2 years


The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched two years ago on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The mission, launched by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was divided into two parts — urban and rural. The Swachh Bharat Mission Urban is managed by the Ministry of Urban Development, while the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (Rural) is led by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has recently released a press note on the progress of the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin in the last two years. According to the release, 2.4 crore toilets have been constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission and 15.04 lakh under MNREGA across rural India. The rural household toilet coverage has increased from 42 percent at the start of Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin to 55.34 percent.

In the first year of the Swachh Bharat Mission, an increase of 446 per cent in construction of toilets was observed, as compared to the pre-SBM period of 2014-15, the release said. 35 districts and about one lakh villages are targeted to be declared open defecation free. The district of the Mahatma's birth, Porbandar, is also poised to be declared open defecation free.

The release noted that self-declaration of being open defecation-free by a village or a district is not confirmed until a third party verifies it. Claiming to be the biggest mass mobilisation in history, the Swachh Bharat Mission focuses on changing behaviour rather than just on construction of toilets.

The release noted success stories from across India, such as that of the Mahila Mandals of Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, that took up the work of weekly cleaning of their villages. This became a good source of income for many as they sold one lakh kg of scrap worth about Rs 5 lakh between February 2015 and August 2016.

Noting another success story, the Khajrana Ganesha temple situated in Indore received more than 100 kg of green waste in the form of flower offerings every day. These flowers are converted into compost using on-site facilities. The same compost is being purchased by the devotees and locals.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, over 53,000 MGNREGA workers are engaged in solid waste work across 9,000 Gram Panchayats. Through sale of compost and recyclable waste, the Panchayats have generated a total income of Rs 75.41 lakh. Several villages in Nanded district in Maharashtra have become “mosquito-free” owing to the presence of individual soak pits called “magic pits” in every household. This helps them not only avoid water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, and jaundice due to reduced ground and surface water contamination, but also vector-borne diseases like dengue, malaria, and the dreaded zika virus.

Lack of proper sanitation leads to a less healthy and less productive population, leading to economic loss. A World Bank study estimates that the resulting loss to the Indian economy is 6.4 percent of the GDP because of poor sanitation. According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, India would save $19 billion worth of health care costs if everyone started washing their hands with soap before meals and after defecation.

Many states of India are already on the verge of becoming open defecation-free — Gujarat, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Mizoram are likely to achieve open defecation-free status for all rural areas in their state by March 31, 2017. According to the release, the performance of the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin is on track to meet its targets well before 2nd October 2019.

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