Mumbai: Maharashtra on Wednesday declared itself an open defecation free (ODF) state, having provided access to toilets to all its residents. In October 2017, the state declared its urban areas as ODF and now, rural Maharashtra has followed suit, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said at a press conference.

“It is an astounding achievement for a government and for a government scheme. In 65 years since Independence, only 45% of the population could be provided access to toilets but in just three-and-half years we have covered the remaining 55%," the chief minister said.

The ODF programme is part of the Narendra Modi government’s Swachh Bharat mission which has a 2 October 2019 deadline.

Fadnavis claimed that no other state in India had performed as well as Maharashtra in completing phase one of this mission.

Between October 2014 and 31 March 2018, the Maharashtra government built nearly 5.5 million toilets, including 280,000 public toilets. Under the Swachh Bharat and Swachh Maharashtra mission, the centre and the Maharashtra governments have so far spent Rs4,500 crore on the ‘Access to Toilet’ phase.

“Work has already started on the second phase which is getting the beneficiaries of phase one to actually use the toilets. From innovative campaigns like ‘Darwaja bandh’ (close the door) in which Amitabh Bachchan is participating to forming good morning squads of students who blow the whistle if they spot someone defecating in public when toilets are there, we will work harder on this phase," Fadnavis said.

Fadnavis said when the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in 2014, Maharashtra discovered that only 5 million families had access to personal or public toilets. “More than 6 million families did not have this access in progressive Maharashtra in 2014. In just three-and-half years, we have covered all 34 districts of Maharashtra, 351 tehsils, and 40,500 villages," Fadnavis said.

He pointed out that a leading district like Pune had 2 lakh families without access to toilets.

“Many districts have put in an impressive performance. For instance, Nanded district was earlier thought to be lagging behind, but the district administration there built 2 lakh toilets in last one year itself. Remote and backward districts like Yavatmal, Nandurbar and Gadchiroli have together built more than 7 lakh toilets," Fadnavis said.