Changes in Open Defecation in Rural North India: 2014-18


This paper presents the findings of a 2018 survey on ‘rural sanitation behaviour’ in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. A similar survey was done in 2014 in these states and in Haryana. For the 2018 survey 1,224 of the same households as 2014 were revisited, while 334 were visited for the first time – making it a total of 1,558 households in 2018.

The 2018 survey tried to understand the changes in rural open defecation since the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) began in 2014. One of SBM’s goals has been to eliminate open defecation by 2019. The survey assesses the performance of SBM in the four northern states, which constitute over two-fifths of India’s rural population.

The authors say that, over the four years of SBM (2014-2018), the reduction in open defecation was approximately 26 per cent. However, they note that SBM came at a social cost: coercion and threats by local officials were commonplace, and occasional violence and bullying was reported by journalists.

The survey also shows the differences and commonalities in SBM implementation across the four states. And it reports on the involvement of village, block and district officials in SBM.


  1. The authors estimate that in the four surveyed states 44 per cent of people above the age of two defecate in the open. This includes those who own latrines and those who do not.

  2. Around 25 per cent of the people surveyed in Madhya Pradesh defecate in the open, compared to 39 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, 53 per cent in Rajasthan and 60 per cent in Bihar.

  3. 23 per cent of people who own latrines in the four states defecate in the open. In Madhya Pradesh, 16 per cent of latrine owners defecate in the open, compared to 21 per cent each in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and 40 per cent in Rajasthan.

  4. 41 per cent of adult females (who own or don’t own latrines) in all four states defecate in the open. Among latrine owners, 20 per cent of all adult females defecate in the open.

  5. Among adult males (who own or don’t own latrines) in all four states, 44 per cent defecate in the open. Among latrine owners, 25 per cent of all adult males defecate in the open.

  6. Around 56 per cent of all households (with or without latrines) have at least one person who defecates in the open. Among households with a latrine, 40 per cent have at least one person who defecates in the open.

  7. Overall, open defecation levels among all households dropped from 70 per cent in 2014 to 44 per cent in 2018 in the surveyed states. Open defecation dropped the most during this period in Madhya Pradesh (43 per cent), followed by Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (26 per cent each), and Bihar (15 per cent).

  8. Latrine ownership among households increased from 37 per cent in 2014 to 71 per cent in 2018. Around 90 per cent of the households surveyed in Madhya Pradesh owned latrines in 2018, compared to 78 per cent in Rajasthan, 73 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, and 50 per cent in Bihar.

  9. In the five years before the 2018 survey, the government provided support for latrine construction to 19 per cent of the surveyed households in Bihar, 43 per cent of the households in Uttar Pradesh, 46 per cent of the households in Rajasthan, and 53 per cent of the households in Madhya Pradesh.

  10. Around 56 per cent of respondents in all the surveyed households (which owned or didn’t own latrines) were aware of some form of coercion by local officials in the implementation of SBM in their villages.

  11. The coercion took the form of being prevented from or harassed while defecating in the open; being threatened with the loss of public benefits (like food rations) for not complying with SBM; and being fined or threatened with fines for non-compliance with SBM. The authors note that although coercion was primarily used to convince people to build latrines, in Madhya Pradesh, and to a certain extent in Uttar Pradesh, it was sometimes used to convince people who owned latrines to use them.

  12. Among latrine owners and non-owners, Dalit and Adivasi households were much more likely to face coercion than other social groups. Among latrine-owning households, Dalits were twice as likely as others to have faced coercion, while Adivasis were almost thrice as likely. 

  13. The authors say that open defecation is much less common in households with larger latrine pits. Smaller pits are perceived to require frequent emptying, which is associated with caste impurity. The use of large pits doesn’t invoke the same worries about contact with faeces or hiring a manual scavenger.

  14. Latrines with large pits cost Rs. 34,000 on average to build, while the subsidy provided through SBM is Rs. 12,000. This partly explains why many households didn’t build latrines or had to be coerced into latrine construction even in places where the subsidy was easier to access.

    Focus and Factoids by Abizar Shaikh.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Aashish Gupta, Nazar Khalid, Devashish Desphande, Payal Hathi, Avani Kapur, Nikhil Srivastav, Sangita Vyas, Dean Spears and Diane Coffey.


IZA Institute of Labor Economics


Jan, 2019