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The Ground Reality

Jammu and Kashmir’s Open Defecation Free Status

The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, now the union territory of J&K, attained 100% open defecation free status in September 2018, well before the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) deadline of 2 October 2019. However, the movement of women in flocks to fields as it gets dark portrays quite a different picture. Do the so-called individual household latrines exist only on paper, while being incomplete and non-functional in reality? Are these not being used due to cultural barriers and socialisation? What policy steps are needed to effect change in rural sanitation behaviour? To answer these questions and suggest a way forward, a micro-study was carried out in Bishnah block of Jammu district.

Coffey and Spears (2018) observed that although rural life is changing quickly, the census and other data sources suggest that latrine adoption is lagging in India. To substantiate their findings, they cite the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Monitoring Report (2017), according to which more than half the households that practise open defecation globally reside in rural India. They further state that, according to the 2011 Census, 90% of the Indian households that lack a toilet or latrine are located in rural India. They analyse data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) to further support their position.

Refuting the basis as well as the findings of Coffey and Spears (2018), Yougal Joshi (2018) observed that under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM),1 rural sanitation coverage increased from 39% in October 2014 to 50% in October 2016, 63% in October 2017, and over 85% June 2018. This means that rural sanitation coverage more than doubled since the programme began in 2014. The fact is that rural sanitation in the country has indeed made significant progress in the last few years. Joshi (2018) further observed that the NFHS-4, on which Coffey and Spears’ (2018) findings were based, was undertaken over a period of 24 months, between January 2015 and December 2016. It showed that rural sanitation coverage increased from 40% to 58% between 2015 and 2016, respectively. Joshi argued that such a long survey period in a fast-moving programme makes the findings of the survey unrepresentative, inconclusive, and a gross underestimation of the present reality. To conclude his point, he stated that over 7.6 crore toilets had been built across villages in India, accompanied by a strong focus on changing sanitation behaviours. As a result, nearly four lakh villages, 400 districts, and 17 states and union territories in the country were declared open defecation free (ODF) ODF as of July 2018. In mid-2018, when Joshi’s article was published, it appeared that rural India was well on its way to becoming free from open defecation before the proposed deadline of 2 October 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of M K Gandhi (Joshi 2018).

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Updated On : 27th Oct, 2020

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