A survey of 7,500 rural households has found that 29% of Swachh Bharat toilets exist only on paper and of those that have been built, 36% are unusable. The survey was conducted by Accountability Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research in December 2015, across 10 districts in five states. The states included Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
The survey took the government's achievement list from the Swachh Bharat website and went about trying to find the beneficiaries. The first roadblock it hit was that many names on the achievement list were mentioned twice.
"The government needs to institute random auditing of the achievement list and also employ third party surveys to ensure accuracy of numbers," said Yamini Aiyar of Accountability Initiative.
Of the ten districts surveyed, the best performing was Satara in Maharashtra, which has been known for its sanitation achievements. The worst of the ten districts was Nalanda in Bihar, home turf of chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Apart from households named in the government's achievement list, respondents also included randomly selected households. A third of all respondents reported defecating in the open, the highest in Nalanda and Udaipur.
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, rural households who have built toilets can request for a reimbursement of Rs 10-12,000. However, the survey found that 40% of those who had applied for reimbursement did not receive it. In Jhalawar, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia's constituency, the survey found less than 40% households received the money. In Udaipur, only 18% eligible household even requested for the reimbursement, reflecting lack of awareness about the scheme.
The government is supposed to monitor the use of toilets once they have been built, but 38% household reported they had not been surveyed by the government.
It is not as if people don't want toilets. Households that had toilets, nearly half of them were built after April 2014. In districts where the survey found poor implementation of the Swachh Bharat scheme, there was a toilet construction boom. In Jhalawar, 81% of new toilets have been built after April 2014.
Those who can afford it on their own, are quickly adopting toilets. Building a usable toilet also costs a lot more than what the government is offering. The actual cost, according to respondents, ranged from Rs 15,000-40,000.
Most construction, the survey found, is taking place without government help. Of the toilets built since April 2014, only 24% received government help. This statistic was worst for the Bihar districts of Nalanda (6%) and Purnea (3%).
Do people who build toilets want government assistance? 57% respondents said they wanted it, but only 21% said they received it.
Lack of awareness
Lack of awareness about the scheme was the biggest reason why those who needed assistance didn't even ask for it.
To popularise rural sanitation, the government had promised to appoint Swachhta Doots or sanitation ambassadors in every gram panchayat. But only 6% respondents were aware of Swachhta Doots. Only 10% households were aware of Panchayat Swachhta Samitis in their village. Only 3% said they had been visited by government officials to tell them about the scheme. And only 16% said they had ever been surveyed by the government since 2012 to check the existence of a toilet in their home. Only 32% households said the government had monitored sanitation in their house.
While there was high monitoring of the construction of toilets (85-100%), the monitoring of usage was low. The Swachh Bharat Mission says usage of toilets is to be measured to ensure that villages become open defecation-free. The government has set the ambitious target of declaring India free of open defecation by 2019.
Most people who had complete toilets constructed, were using them. The non-usage was highest in Udaipur, at 26%. In Solan in Himachal Pradesh, only 1% households were defecating in the open despite having a usable toilet at home. The main reasons for non-usage was absence of water and the small size of the pit. Some also said they had a habit of open defection that the toilet at home hadn't yet changed.
"The Swachh Bharat Mission is working poorly in districts that need it the most," says Yamini Aiyar of Accountability Initiative. "What is needed the most is an awareness drive about sanitation, the Swachh Bharat Mission and how it works," she said.