ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Misnaming Toilet Building as ‘Swachhata’

The Swachh Bharat Mission outwits rights-based development with lofty statistics.


In an attempt to deal with India’s open defecation problem, the National Democratic Alliance government (read, Narendra Modi) has incentivised double-pit pour-flush toilets through the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Its cost-effectiveness and less hazardous sludge management system in comparison to the conventionally used septic tanks is common knowledge, and official estimates suggest a rapid diffusion of the technology under the mission. Within a span of merely four years (2014–17), household toilet availability has increased from 42% to 64%, with over five lakh villages across 25 states/union territories being declared open defecation free (ODF). But, all is not well behind these impressive numbers. Evidence shows that physical access alone is not enough to ensure usage, so much so that even the ODF-certified areas are not de facto ODF.

The razzmatazz for toilet construction/ODF certification has overshadowed the fact that the essence of universal water and sanitation coverage is derived from the right to life, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. At the same time, India has ratified several international treaties that explicitly recognise the human rights to water and sanitation, and the human rights obligations of the states. Yet, there is no national legislation to protect these rights in the country. These are supported through legal jurisprudence, enabling the states to do just the “minimum” needed for ensuring legal clarity—be it applying aggressive and abusive practices for earning an ODF status, such as revoking of ration cards, electricity services and or shaming/penalising for open defecation, or diverting funds earmarked for education and communication activities for behavioural change to building more toilets.

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Updated On : 15th Oct, 2018


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