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The Trouble With India’s $22 Billion Toilet Gamble

Payal Hathi,
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The Narendra Modi Government has announced that Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) has to be a mass movement to make India open defecation free in five years. By spending Rs 1.34 lakh crore ($22 billion) to build about  110 million toilets across the country, “the pet project of the Prime Minister will be executed on a war footing with the involvement of every gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zila parishad in the country, besides roping in large sections of rural population and school teachers and students in this endeavor.”


While it is commendable that the Government has set high ambitions, it is worth exploring how they plan to reach the goal.  Unfortunately, plans for SBM don’t look very different from the erstwhile Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA).  The priority is still on construction, perhaps even more so than before, and so does not appear to be as significant a break from the past as hoped.


One important change in the new SBM is its increased budget.  110 million is the number of rural households that have no toilet facilities. So, much of the enlarged budget will go towards building a new toilet for every rural household in India without one.  This may seem like a good idea to those who argue that having a latrine is a prerequisite to using one but we at Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e.)would argue that there’s something that needs to happen even before that. We recently conducted the Sanitation Quality, Use, Access, and Trends (SQUAT) Survey in over 3,000 households in rural north India to explore people’s sanitation attitudes and practices. 


We found that many people in households with working latrines choose to defecate in the open anyway.  To reach these people, we need to create a desire in them to actually have and use a toilet even before they physically get or make one.  Access to toilets alone will not solve the problem of open defecation when many people simply prefer to defecate in the open.  Is the Government really prepared to waste resources?


Not only are more toilets to be built but at Rs 12,000 each, they cost Rs 2,000 more than each toilet built under NBA.  As a simple exercise, we calculated that if the Government hired one dedicated behavior change staff member for 700,000 villages, five staff members in each of the 6,000 block offices and one staff member in each of the 600 districts, for five years, it would cost less than one-fifth of what it would cost to build a Rs 12,000 toilet for every household without one in rural India. Not only does it make practical sense to focus on changing people’s minds, it also makes financial sense.


Rather than motivating people to want and use their latrines, SBM is actually worse than NBA in terms of behavior change because the information, education, and communication (IEC) allocation has declined from 15% to just 8% of the budget.  While it may be true that this is a larger monetary amount than previously allocated (because the SBM’s entire budget is much larger than that of the NBA), the reduction is symbolic in terms of the importance given to changing people’s minds and sanitation practices versus construction.  The language of the new policy indicates that “behaviour change and usage of toilets shall be given top priority to ensure increased demand,” but given budgetary allocations, this seems even less possible now than it was under the NBA.



It is useful to reflect on how much money has actually been allocated, only for the construction of new toilets in rural India.  Per year, the projected construction allocation under just the rural part of the SBM is more than 9 times the 2013-14 NBA expenditure and close to three-fourths of 2013-14 employment guarantee programme (NREGA) expenditure. These numbers are enormous.  And still, the question remains whether the Government will actually be able to spend whatever money ultimately gets allocated. 
Of the cumulative funds allocated to NBA and its predecessor, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), till date, the Government has been able to spend only 84% for household construction and 45% for IEC.  Without hiring more ground staff to increase what the Government has the capacity to spend, it is unlikely that SBM will be able to make faster progress than previous sanitation efforts.


For now, it appears that construction will yet again trump behavior change in SBM.  Since the full set of guidelines for SBM is yet to be released, there is still an opportunity for the Government to change course, ensure that funds allocated to behavior change are actually spent and make sure that only toilets that are constructed are those that will be used.

(Payal Hathi is a researcher and associate director at the research institute for compassionate economics)
Data Visualisation: Chaitanya Mallapur



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  1. Satish Chandra Reply

    October 10, 2014 at 7:29 am


    Why does the government need the help of this company (Facebook) to promote connectivity in India? It is reported that Zuckerberg will provide one million dollars to fund development of apps in Indian regional languages. Can’t the Indian government or industry provide one million dollars? Indians call themselves a ‘software superpower’; why can’t it develop these apps itself? Modi wants Zuckerberg’s help in promoting education and regional peace; why is this Mother-Chod Modi always seeking the help of white foreigners with things like education and peace which India should be doing itself? Modi is making India into a colony of the United States.

    A story says: “Please note that in July this year Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) visited India and met PM Modi and Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications & Information Technology and Law and Justice. After a meeting with Sandberg the Minister Shankar Prasad posted, “Prime Minister also wants Facebook to play greater role in running a nationwide awareness campaign for cleanliness and promoting peace in region,” on his Facebook page.” The basic problem is that Mother-Chods like Modi have no self respect. He just met the Chief Operating Officer of the company and now he is meeting Zuckerberg of the company. Normally company employees like these should get to meet no one higher than a Joint Secretary. If you look at the purpose of the meetings — awareness campaigns for cleanliness and promoting peace in the region, it is even more shocking.He is reducing India to the status of a Chaprasi which has no sovereignty. This alone is a violation of his oath of office.

    The undermining by Modi of the country’s sovereignty is grounds for his immediate removal from office and for giving him the death penalty.

    (October 3, 2014) Mother-Chod Mohan Bhagwat of RSS in his live Doordarshan broadcast lauded Modi’s U.S. visit and closer relations with the U.S. showing the RSS is controlled by the CIA and replacing IAS and IFS people with RSS cadres, as I had suggested, is no solution.

    Mother-Chods like Modi are always defaming India, such as through the Swachha Bharat campaign, as if the Indians don’t know the importance of cleanliness and need the help of Obama and company to learn it. This is what I wrote a few months ago: “(NOV 20 ‘13) The headlines scream “Open Defecation” by the majority of Indians on World Toilet Day. Going to the fields is the most environmentally friendly way to defecate. Lake Ontario which supplies Toronto’s drinking water is heavily polluted from fecal bacteria from flush toilets whose health effects are ignored. Cleanliness procedures of Indians from Yoga to daily life — Indians expressed shock that the University of Chicago president’s wife put a spoon which she had just put in her mouth to taste a dish she was preparing back in the pot to stir it and I replied “That’s why they are called dirty Jews” — are the most stringent in the world. The environmental and health effects — from water requirements to pollution of water bodies — of flush toilets on India will be devastating. Without first establishing dominance via emplaced nuclear warheads (below), snatching entire continents from the white man after killing the existing population, India cannot be dominant in health and sanitation.”

    India’s slavery is the result of Indians killed by the tens of millions and its centers of learning destroyed. India has to kill Americans by the hundreds of millions and destroy Harvard, Yale and all American centers of learning and research. All IAS and IFS people by training work for the CIA and should be replaced by RSS cadres.

    “”India’s greatest scientist and greatest living Indian publicly tortured in Harvard seminar, systematically and totally starved for up to 3 weeks at a time, made semi-starved and homeless and even blind for years, kept under 24-hour audio and video surveillance as well as surveillance of [and interference with] communications and electrical typewriter and computer use, document creation and photocopying, etc., by satellite for more than past 3 decades, systematically harassed and in poverty and neutralised and robbed of his work at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, robbed of crores in his money and property in India by C.I.A.-RAW, forced back into exile in the U.S., all with full cooperation and participation of India’s RAW and India’s C.I.A.-RAW-controlled prime ministers, politicians and media — to keep India poor, weak and enslaved” and how this means the nuclear destruction of New Delhi and then the coast-to-coast destruction of the U.S.; see my blog titled ‘Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.’ which can be found by a Yahoo/Google search with the title; my biography can be found in Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World, 2014 and earlier editions.” In the past few years I have had India’s nuclear forces emplace India’s nuclear warheads in Washington, New York and other U.S. cities, ready to be exploded. Simultaneously destroying Washington, New York and New Delhi (RAW headquarters, South Block and North Block) with a warning that additional U.S. cities will be similarly destroyed, with nuclear warheads already emplaced in them, if there is any retaliation or sign of retaliation, will immediately make India the supreme military and economic power in the world even before implementing my proposal about money which can make India’s economy grow 30% per year or more.

    In a letter dated July 27, 1982 to Indira Gandhi as prime minister I referred to an act, by American Jews, that was “the equivalent of an annihilatory nuclear first strike on India”. In her reply dated July 29, 1982 she wrote “Dear Mr. Chandra, I have received your letter dated July 27, 1982 and am passing it on to my Principal Secretary to deal with it. Sincerely, Indira Gandhi”. In December, 1982 I wrote to her “There was sudden, terminal, overwhelming violence against me during a seminar at Harvard University and rather similar occurrences earlier… India can expect sudden, annihilatory violence … with nuclear weapons … against its population … unless it can mount a decisively superior force to stop it”. Following my advice, India’s strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme and the Centre for Advanced Technology, was started to give India victory in a nuclear war with the United States and because of my influence on her, Indira Gandhi as prime minister was assassinated by CIA-RAW and later when Rajiv Gandhi realized the truth of what I had written to her after the American invasion of Iraq which was the first Gulf War, he was also assassinated by CIA-RAW. In the past few years, I have had India’s nuclear forces emplace nuclear warheads in Washington, New York and other U.S. cities and India is now in a position to destroy the United States without being destroyed. In fact, India is in a position now to destroy the United States without itself suffering a single casualty by triggering its nuclear warheads emplaced in Washington and New York with a warning that additional U.S. cities will be similarly destroyed if there is any retaliation or sign of retaliation. Goonda Modi and his Cabinet are determined to keep India in slavery. This will not be allowed.

    More on the above can be found in my eBook on Amazon by searching for “Death of America by Satish Chandra”.

    Satish Chandra

  2. N.Paramasivam Reply

    October 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I wonder why media is against each and every step taken by Modi. If the scheme was introduced in UPA period, we can see the positive sides. This media bashing creates sympathy towards Modi. In spite of huge scams, media is praising UPA means, they had little concern for loss of national wealth and loss of national resources. This is also a scheme like NREGA. Please wait for a year, see the progress of SBM, if not implemented well, then we can criticise. Natural justice.

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