People take part in a Swachh Bharat Mission programme at Banaras Hindu University on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. The number of Indians who defecate in the open has dropped from some 550 million in 2014 to 200 million by early 2018. Photo:  PTI
People take part in a Swachh Bharat Mission programme at Banaras Hindu University on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. The number of Indians who defecate in the open has dropped from some 550 million in 2014 to 200 million by early 2018. Photo: PTI

Rural India will reach 100% toilet coverage by December 2018

India's drive to expand sanitation coverage will achieve its goal by December, says union water and sanitation ministry secretary Parameswaran Iyer

New Delhi:The union water and sanitation ministry this week launched a Chalo Champaran campaign, which is being billed as a final push to the Swachh Bharat Mission’s goal of achieving total sanitation coverage by October, 2019. India’s drive to expand sanitation coverage will achieve its goal by December, ministry secretary Parameswaran Iyer said at the campaign launch.

As part of the programme, 20,000 swachhagrahis (sanitation motivators) will fan out across 8,000 panchayats in Bihar. “Our aim has always been to induce behaviour change and not limit the exercise to a toilet construction programme," Iyer said.

Calling Swachh Bharat Mission the biggest behaviour change programme ever attempted, Iyer said based on government surveys, the number of Indians who defecate in the open has dropped from an estimated 550 million in October 2014 to 200 million by early 2018.

“In the same period, rural sanitation coverage has improved from 38% to 80%. Which is why we believe we are on track to achieve open defecation free (ODF) status across rural India by the year end," he said.

However, the government’s own data shows the progress being claimed is not uniform across the country, since access and availability of toilets is still a major concern in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

The campaign will give focused attention to these states and build enough momentum to reach the goal well before the next general election, Iyer said.

On 10 April, the concluding day of the campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Champaran in Bihar as part of the centenary year celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha.

Iyer cited a recent UNICEF study to claim adequate investments in sanitation saves an average household up to an estimated Rs.50,000 per year by way of reduction in medical costs and time savings. “This is why we’ve made a call to move from satyagraha to swachhagraha," he said.

He also said the government was focused on retaining and sustaining any progress that is being made. In that direction, a national initiative to ensure the sustainability of ODF status would be begun after broad consultations with all the states, Iyer said.

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