10/09/2015 8:24 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why We Need To Question The 'Success' Of Modi's Toilets-In-Schools Programme

School near Bodh Gaya
School near Bodh Gaya

In mid-August 2014, the Minister for Human Resources Development enthused that in one year all schools would have toilets for boys and girls. She was driven by Prime Minister Modi's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. A year later, the Ministry's website shows a mark-sheet that would be the envy of any student.

Under the Swachh Vidyalaya programme, 417,796 toilets were to be made or fixed in a year. Of this, 266,017 were new toilets across India; the rest were dysfunctional ones that needed to be fixed. There are a total of 1,448,712 schools of different types in India, both public and private.

"I find it incredulous a system can suddenly deliver 600% more on sanitation than it has for years."

The Ministry embarked on an innovative and ambitious venture. It drew in companies to make these toilets under their CSR programmes. It seemed to be a win-win situation for everyone, students included. The companies could spend their money and make the government happy, the government would get its toilets and students would have sanitation.

What has actually happened? Let's take a look at the trend of the past few years. This data is from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation that oversaw the construction of school toilets till 2014-15 when the task was handed over to MOHRD.


Toilets constructed

Consider another data set. According to the District Information System for Education (DISE), a monitoring system developed for the MoHRD, in 2014, as many as 302,781 primary schools lacked toilets. If all schools are considered, 331,320 do not have toilets or the toilets are defunct. This begs the question -- where did MoHRD get the figure of 417,796 toilets from? Is it an inflated figure to exaggerate achievements? DISE does not quantify this.

But an answer to the extent of fudging can be found in a third data set. The independent Annual State of Education Report says:

DISE 2013-14 recorded that 94.24% of primary schools of the country have a boy's toilet, whereas ASER 2014 found 93.7% of primary schools had toilets used by boys. However, ASER also shows clearly that the mere provision of a toilet is not sufficient. In 28.5% schools, the toilet was unusable, leaving a much smaller proportion of 65.2% schools which had a usable toilet for boys.

Similarly, DISE 2013-14 reports that a girl's toilet was available in 84.12 % primary schools, while the corresponding figure from ASER 2014 matches very closely at 81.2%. However, ASER figures show that in 12.9% schools the girls' toilets were locked and in 12.6% they were unusable. Thus only 55.7% schools had a girls' toilet that was both unlocked and usable.

These figures are two years old. They put the number of schools with usable toilets for boys at and for girls at 944,560 and for girls at 806,932 in 2013-14. That meant 504,152 toilets were needed for boys and 641,870 for girls, totalling 1,145,932 toilets! MoHRD claims on the Swachh Vidyalaya website that 226,909 toilets were made for boys (new and repaired) and 190,887 for girls. This seems to be a gross under-estimation.

So we have a major over-estimation based on DISE data and a larger under-estimation based on ASER data.

Another way to slice the picture up is to look at past trends. The table above gives the number of toilets made each year between 2010-11 and 2015-16. In the last year, the figures have plummeted partly because MDWS stopped tracking school sanitation. Even so, it was tracking progress until 2014-15. The average rate of construction was 73,493 toilets per year.

Does that mean in one year the system cranked up nearly 600%? Look at the situation in June in Maharashtra, as reported in by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences: Of the 97.8% schools that had toilets, just 62.2% were functional at the time of survey."

And Maharashtra is one of the more "progressive" states.

Even if I assume all schools now have toilets, there is nothing that tells me if they are usable or meet standards. DISE data shows 45% of toilets (both sexes) have handwashing facilities inside. So 55% do not even have water and are unusable. The data does not indicate if the toilets are clean, have a door and are otherwise safe. If these are missing the toilets are not usable.

The evidence from non-MoHRD sources points in the direction opposite to what the Ministry would have us believe. Swachh Vidyalaya's data source is unclear and is at odds with its DISE and ASER figures. I find it incredulous a system can suddenly deliver 600% more on sanitation than it has for years. Stories from BJP-ruled Maharashtra indicate a huge gap just two months before MoHRD's deadline. And even assuming the picture is numerically perfect, quality and usability remain big question marks, as always.

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