Swachch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) launched in 2014, declared as India’s biggest cleanliness drive aimed towards achieving Open Defecation free India by 2019. Now that we are just one year away from the deadline lets measure the magnitude of change brought about by the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan.

The mission promised the construction of 12 crore toilets, eradication of manual scavenging, the introduction of modern methods of waste management and raising awareness and covering a total area of 4041 towns and cities. A lot of Indian celebrities were roped in to make the campaign a popular one, and this move by the government really helped in catching a lot of limelight.

The campaign indeed is the most popular one to date but it is not a maiden attempt by the governments. Sanitation has been a much talked about the issue even in the past. The governments since 1980’s have carried out Rural sanitation programs, yet the 2011 census revealed that only 30% of the rural household have toilets and even fewer use those toilets. We still are to witness whether the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan is able to bring out a contrasting change in the situation.

Access to sanitation reduces the spread of diarrhoea–caused by bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, mostly spread by faeces-contaminated water–studies show. Diarrhoea is the leading cause of malnutrition, and is the second leading cause of death in children under five years, as India Spend reported on July 29, 2017.

According to the  National Family Health Survey, 2015-16, almost half of the Indian households (48.4%)–70.3% urban and 36.7% rural–had “improved sanitation facilities”  toilets where waste was disposed without human contact.

  Source: National Family Health Survey, 2015-16


Only 14.9% urban and 6.1% rural households used a shared improved toilet, while 3.7% urban and 3.1% rural households used “unimproved” toilets, which include dry latrines, flush latrines not connected to sewer, pit latrine without a slab or an open pit.

In rural areas, the stereotypes related to the caste system, untouchability and beliefs about benefits of defecating in open contribute to high open defecation rates. According to official data, more than 49 million households in India have toilets–up from 38.7% in 2014 to 69.04% in 2017. Yet, only 62% of 207 districts and 63% of 249,811 villages declared ‘open-defecation-free’ have been verified.

The World Bank, which had promised a loan of $1.5 billion (Rs 105 billion) for SBM-Garmin, did not release the first instalment due in July 2016 because India did not fulfil the condition of conducting and announcing results of an independent verification survey and termed the scheme’s implementation “moderately unsatisfactory”, reveal reports.

The right to clean and safe environment is a constitutional mandate under Article 21. The campaign so far has surely been successful in popularizing the issue but it has not managed to deliver massive change at the ground level. Prime minister Modi’s commitment to achieving open defecation free  India by 2019 seems to be quite far. The Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan has a long long way to go.