When Swachh Bharat Mission began in 2014, government agencies and local governments had a humongous task of achieving ODF status. Only a little over 38 percent people had access to toilets and in 2020, it has touched the 100 percent mark. Now, the nation has a big task of retaining this status
India has built over 100 million household toilets since the inception of the Swachh Bharat Mission. This is no small feat. The mission made the toilets an important topic of discussions in intellectual discourse in the last few years. Access to toilets is not just linked to sanitation but its availability ensures dignity, livability, and a healthy environment. On the contrary, open defecation is linked with poverty, malnutrition, and health issues.
According to the World Health Organisation factsheet 2012, 626 million people practised open defecation in India. This accounted for 90 per cent of the 692 million people in South Asia who practised open defecation and 59 per cent of the 1.1 billion people in the world who practise open defecation lived in India. This was a matter of shame for a country that was fledging its muscles to become a global economic power.
The elimination of open defecation was recognized as a top priority for improving the health, nutrition, and productivity of developing country populations and is explicitly mentioned in SDG target 6.2. Though the United Nations had set the target for 2030 to eliminate open defecation, India has achieved the target 10 years early.
Making India clean was one of the prime objectives of the current government when it came to power in 2014 and this resulted in the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission. It became a mission for every Indian in the following years and people supported this wholeheartedly. The government did whatever was required to provide toilets to one and all. The government built public and community toilets and also provided financial assistance for building toilets in every household. The initiative resulted in the construction of 10 crore or 100 million toilets and making all the villages Open Defecation Free.
99 per cent of Indian cities have also become ODF; the review of the ODF status of municipalities in West Bengal is pending as per the information from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and when this is done, Indian cities will also be 100 per cent ODF.
The nation has ensured accessibility of toilets for all, now it is the time to ensure that the mission does not stop here. The government agencies should keep running their IEC campaigns so that people do not abandon toilets again. The consistency of communication with the citizens is of paramount importance. The efforts for raising public awareness about operating and maintaining on-site sanitation systems, not just about constructing them are also required. Another challenge is faecal sludge management which needs adequate attention, especially in rural areas.
The nation should raise its sanitation standards and that should also be visible in public toilets. The agencies responsible for the upkeep and management of public toilets should lead by example. We have seen the introduction of many technologies that had a provision of auto cleaning of public toilets, registering reviews from end-users, etc. Such technologies and innovation in the sector should be encouraged further.
And, this cannot be done if the government spending on this mission is curtailed after the celebration of achievements. The mission must go on and touch new heights.