A man comes out from a temporary toilet installed on the banks of the Ganges river in Allahabad, India.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JITENDRA PRAKASH)
Ahead of the 2019 Indian elections, the BBC examined the claims and pledges made by the main political parties, such as stopping the practice of defecating in open places.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that 90% of Indians now have access to a toilet – up from 40% since 2014 – as part of his Clean India program.
The truth is that the government did increase the number of household toilets built; however, not all toilets are functioning properly.
The reason why the Clean India program is so important for the Indian parliamentary elections is that the practice of public excretion has long been blamed for the spread of diseases.
Official reports and research conducted by an NGO show that many toilets built will be rendered unusable within five to seven years, and that some toilets are non-functioning due to poor construction or maintenance.
Modi even announced in 2015 that all public schools have separate toilets for girls and boys. However, the Annual Status of Education report published in 2018 showed that nearly 23% of school toilets were unusable.
Further research showed that despite publishing data that refute Modi's past claims of success, the situation continues to be worse than the government claims due to their achievements.
The biggest challenge that faces both the government and research is the change in behavior. The government aims at changing habits, which are also harder to measure.
"People have constructed toilets, but still do not regard them as a part of the house," an official told the BBC. "And in many homes, older people avoid using them as they don't find them comfortable enough."
A survey published in January 2019 focusing on northern India states showed that almost a quarter of people in households with latrines still defecated in the open.
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