By Rajiv Shah
Building toilets is a basic state duty, which governments, state or central, have failed to perform. Census of India data suggest that open defecation by 50 per cent of India’s population and nearly 40 per cent of “progressive” Gujarat suggests what has gone amiss.
At a time when temples versus toilets controversy, first triggered by Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and then picked up by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, appears no sign of receding, few have taken care of looking at the Census of India figures, which suggest that, in India, a little less than half of the population goes into the open for defecation because they have no access to toilet facilities, either public or private, suggesting how important basic social factors of governance are rated by the rulers in overall scheme of things. What is even worse is that in a “progressive” or “developed” state like Gujarat, nearly 40.4 per cent of the population defecates in the open, creating huge problems for health for the population. At the same time, it suggests that, despite loud claims, Gujarat government as miserably failed to wipe out the evil practice of manual scavenging.
What is disconcerting for Gujarat – as for other “progressive” states – is that its 65.76 per cent of 6,765,403 rural households, which would roughly be 2.28 crore of the rural population, use open fields to defecate. While the all-India average is almost equal to that of Gujarat, 67.3 per cent, this is pretty high, if one compares it with other states: Andhra Pradesh’s slightly lower percentage of households, 65.12, use open fields as they have no toilets. The figures for other states are Jammu & Kashmir 58.29 per cent, Maharashtra 55.79 per cent (which is 10 per cent lower than Gujarat), West Bengal 51.3 per cent, Uttarakhand 45.04 per cent, Haryana 42.28 per cent, Assam 38.46 per cent, Himachal Pradesh 32.55 per cent, Punjab 28.10 per cent, Goa 27.7 per cent, and Kerala, which is by far the best performer, just 5.5 per cent.
As for urban Gujarat, the situation is better, suggesting the urban bias of the state rulers – with 8.74 per cent of the 5,416,315 households going into the open in the absence of any usable toilets. Even then, this suggests that roughly 22.48 lakh of the state’s urban population does not have access to either private or public toilets in the state. Not without reason, in urban areas, manual scavenging becomes a factor to be reckoned with, something the officialdom has denied. While the census figures say that there are 2,566 manual scavengers in Gujarat — 1,408 in rural areas and 1,158 in urban areas – there is reason to believe that this is a gross underestimation. With as many as 44,49,164 rural households 4,73,251 urban households devoid of any toilets, private or public, the civil society activists who say that the number of manual scavengers should be several times higher carry weight.
Though in urban Gujarat 8.64 per cent go in the open to defecate, which is quite low compared to the all-India average of 12.6 per cent, even this is pretty high compared to several states. The states where lesser percentage of urban households are forced to go into the open in the absence of access to toilet facilities, private or public, are Himachal Pradesh 6.88 per cent, Punjab 5.8 per cent, Assam 4.99 per cent, Uttarakhand 4.72 per cent, with Kerala – whose social indicators, including health and education, are the best in India – a mere 1.67 per cent. In urban Delhi three per cent of households are without access to any type of toilets. In the so-called Bimaru states, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, are some of the worst performers with a much higher percentage of population going to open fields to defecate.
A further analysis of the Census of India figures suggests that Gujarat is a poor performer when it comes to constructing new toilets during the last decade. This can be considered a sad commentary on those who believe that Gujarat is the “best governed state”. Indeed, a state which fails to keep pace with other states in individual toilets has little reason for such a claim. In fact, a state-wise comparison of the number of households without individual toilet facilities shows that, whether it is rural households or urban households, governance took a backseat in Gujarat. In rural Gujarat, in 2001, there were 78.3 per cent households without any latrines, which came down to 67 per cent a decade later, in 2011. In urban Gujarat, the respective figures are 19.5 (2001) and 12.3 per cent (2011).
The fall in percentage of households without toilets was to the tune of 11.3 per cent in rural Gujarat, suggesting as many percentage of households now have individual toilets in rural areas, something they did not 2001. However, this is much lower compared to several states. Thus, 38.9 per cent of rural households of Himachal Pradesh started availing latrine facilities over the last decade, followed by 29.5 per cent in Punjab, 27.4 per cent in Haryana, 22.5 per cent in Uttarakhand, 19.8 per cent in West Bengal, 19.8 per cent in Maharashtra, 14.1 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, and 11.9 per cent in Kerala.
As for urban Gujarat, 7.2 per cent of more households began accessing individual latrines, which is a little lower than the all-India average percentage of 7.7. Better-performing urban states or union territories on this score were the neighbouring Diu and Daman 20 per cent, Puducherry 17 per cent, Goa 16.1 per cent, Maharashtra 13.2 per cent, Himachal Pradesh 11.9 per cent, Delhi 10.8 per cent, Tamil Nadu 10.8 per cent, Haryana 9.2 per cent and Andhra Pradesh eight per cent.