Context: As the United Nations marks November 19 as World Toilet Day every year to raise awareness about access to hygienic toilets, a look at the state of sanitation in India.

World Toilet Day 2020:

  • About: 
    • World Toilet Day celebrates toilets and raises awareness of the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation.
    • It is about taking action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.
  • Adopted by the UN in 2013: This year, World Toilet Day focuses on sustainable sanitation and climate change.
  • Stages of Sustainable sanitation: As per UN Water, sustainable sanitation begins with a toilet that effectively captures human waste in a safe, accessible and dignified setting. The next stage is treatment and safe disposal.
  • Significance: 
    • Safe reuse of human waste helps save water, reduces and captures greenhouse gas emissions for energy production, and can provide agriculture with a reliable source of water and nutrients.
    • Safe sanitation, water supply and better hygiene can save the lives of 3.5 lakh children (globally) in a year. 
    • According to the Our World in Data (part of Oxford University), an estimated 775,000 people died prematurely as a result of poor sanitation in 2017 (1.4% of global deaths). 

The state of sanitation in India

  • Deaths due to unsafe sanitation: Reason being a high proportion of the population in India does not have access to “improved sanitation”. 
    • Improved sanitation is defined as facilities that ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. 
    • In 2015, India had only 40% of the population had access to improved sanitation. This is much lower than Sri Lanka (95%) and Pakistan and Bangladesh (both over 60%). 
  • The economic impact of poor sanitation:
    • Holds back economic growth: According to the World Bank, poor sanitation costs billions to some countries. In India’s case, such costs were pegged at 6.4% of India’s annual GDP (in 2006). 
    • Reasons: 
      • The economic losses are mainly driven by premature deaths, the cost of health care treatment, lost time and productivity seeking treatment, and lost time and productivity finding access to sanitation facilities.
    • According to the World Health Organization, every dollar spent on sanitation yields about $9 in savings on treatment, health-care costs and gains from more productive days.

Government’s response - Swachh Bharat Mission(SBM):

About SBM:

  • To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation, the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched on 2nd October, 2014.
  • The Mission Coordinator for SBM: Secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) with two Sub-Missions - 
    • The Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin): Nodal Ministry: MDWS 
    • The Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban): Nodal Ministry: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • Together, they aim to achieve Swachh Bharat by 2019, as a fitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th Birth Anniversary.
  • The aim of Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) is to achieve a clean and Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2nd October, 2019.
  • Phase II of SBM(G): The Mission is moving towards the next Phase II of SBMG i.e ODF-Plus, launched in 2020 to ensure that the open defecation free behaviours are sustained, no one is left behind, and that solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) facilities are accessible. 

Milestone Achieved (from 2014 to 2019): 

SBM (G) Milestones 

568.15 IHHLs built (in Lakh) since 2ndOct 2014

35.45 % increase in

sanitation coverage since

2ndOct 2014

255 No. of ODF DistrictsSelf Declared

4470 ODF villages in

Namami Gange

8 ODF States/UTs

(Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Gujarat, Daman & Diu and Chandigarh)

2,92,896 No. of ODF Villages

Self Declared


  • Sustaining its achievements: Villages could reel back to old practices unless behavioural changes are cemented through public outreach.
  • Manual Scavenging: It has to be replaced with new skills and financial support for the displaced families.
  • Maintenance: Of the toilets constructed and ensuring regular supply of water.
  • Policy support: Executive system needs to be put in place for waste segregation at source and its treatment in urban areas.
  • India needs to have a sanitation policy that focuses on reducing open defecation and sustaining it.

Image Source: IE