Coercion, Construction, and 'ODF paper pe'


This article by researchers associated with r.i.c.e. (research institute for compassionate economics), a non-profit based in Amston, Connecticut, USA, was published in the online journal-magazine The India Forum on April 5, 2019.

The article examines the changes in rural open defecation since the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) began in 2014 and discusses challenges for future sanitation programmes. It draws on quantitative data from a 2019 paper (also by the authors of this article) titled ‘Changes in Open Defecation in Rural North India: 2014-2018’. The paper presents the findings of their 2018 survey on ‘rural sanitation behaviour’ from 120 villages in four northern states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The survey shows that 40-50 per cent of the people the authors spoke to in these states defecated in the open, while the SBM website claims that India is 98.92 per cent open defecation-free.

This article is based on 156 qualitative interviews with village and block-level officials in places where the 2018 survey was conducted, as well as new quantitative survey data. The authors found SBM to be a top-down programme – several villagers had been coerced into building latrines – and say that there was little focus on educating people about latrine use or managing faecal sludge in the future.


  1. According to a 2019 paper by the authors, 70 per cent of the people they surveyed in 2014 in rural Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh defecated in the open, compared to 45 per cent in 2018.

  2. Nearly 60 per cent of the households that didn’t have a latrine in 2013-14 owned one by 2018. Among them, nearly three-fourths had received government support to build a latrine.

  3. Most rural households prefer latrines with large pits or ‘containment chambers’ as they require less frequent emptying than more affordable, pit latrines. Large latrines cost more than SBM’s subsidy of Rs. 12,000, and the average cost of a household’s self-made latrine is around Rs. 34,000.

  4. Through qualitative interviews, the authors found that many local officials had been told (by higher-ranking ones) to declare their villages open defecation-free (ODF), even though the households there had built latrines but everyone didn't use one.

  5. The authors also found that local officials often coerced people into constructing latrines. They also threatened households without latrines that they would withhold government benefits, such as food grains, kerosene, electricity and health services, if they did not build latrines.

  6. 68 per cent of the people the authors spoke to in Rajasthan and 78 per cent in Madhya Pradesh had heard of at least one form of coercion used to get latrines constructed in their villages. Dalit and Adivasi households were significantly more likely to experience some kind of coercion than people from other backgrounds.

  7. Half of the SBM-supported latrines in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were built by contractors. Such latrines are typically of a lower quality, and the article says that the rate of open defecation was 10 per cent more among households with contractor-made latrines than among those with self-made ones.

  8. The authors note that only 25 per cent of the latrines surveyed in the four states were twin pit latrines, 40 per cent were single pit latrines, and 31 per cent were septic tanks ('containment chambers'). In twin pit latrines, when the first pit fills up, the latrine owner can use the second one, and this allows the faecal sludge in the first pit to decompose for six months to a year. Decomposed faeces are safer to handle than fresh sludge.

  9. The article concludes that rural sanitation programmes in the future should abandon coercive tactics, focus on latrine use, and encourage more people to use twin pit latrines.

    Focus and Factoids by Vasundhara Kamath.

    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, Payal Hathi, Nikhil Srivastav, Sangita Vyas and Diane Coffey


The India Forum


05 Apr, 2019