New Delhi: The government on Friday launched the Swachh Survekshan Grameen, which will attempt to rank all 698 districts in the country on prevalent levels of cleanliness in the rural areas.

As part of the exercise, which is modelled along the lines of similar ones undertaken in urban areas every year for the last three years, 600-700 surveyors would fan out to a randomly selected sample of rural habitats from among the 6,900-odd villages in the country.

“Every district and state in the country would be ranked. We’ve been talking about a survey like this for a while to measure the on-ground effectiveness of the Swachh Bharat Mission," Parameshwar Iyer , secretary, ministry of drinking water and sanitation, said while announcing the launch of the survey.

A combination of citizen feedback and direct observation of public areas by surveyors would be used, apart from the figures on toilet presence and usage that are available with the ministry, to arrive at the rankings, Iyer said. “We are hoping to collect feedback from at least 5 million citizens. Let’s see how many we reach," he said.

A sample survey covering 75 districts was undertaken in 2016. However, this will be the first such comprehensive all-India evaluation, Iyer said.

When the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in October 2014, an estimated 550 million Indians practised open defecation, making the country’s sanitation indicators the worst in the world. In the years since then, the government has claimed significant reductions in that number and official estimates peg the number of people who still do not have access to toilets at around 200 million. According to official figures, the number of new toilets constructed since 2014 is around 77 million and the government’s target is to end open defecation by October 2019.

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

The Swachh Survekshan survey, which will be carried out in August, will also be used as an opportunity to engage the rural community on the benefits of public cleanliness, thereby taking the campaign beyond household toilets, Iyer said.

There are obvious health and economic benefits that accrue to citizens as a result of improvements in sanitation, Iyer said, and a massive information and awareness campaign would drive home this point.

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