New Delhi: The Work Bank has recalled its departmental working paper, which concluded that there is a “most concerning” trend of toilet usage declining in rural India since 2018 despite early gains of the Swachh Bharat Mission–Gramin, The Hindu reported.
There are allegations that the paper has been recalled under pressure from the Narendra Modi government. Besides the one cited above, two other papers have been withdrawn pending an “internal review” as well as “technical and procedural issues”. In the same breath, the World Bank also notes that the papers published on its website go through required approvals internally before they are made available online.
The contentious paper – Progress on Sanitation in Rural India: Reconciling Diverse Evidence – published in September concluded that despite “breathtaking” gains in increasing toilet access, toilet usage had been going down in rural India since 2018. The largest drop in usage is reported among people from Scheduled Caste (20 percentage points) and Scheduled Tribe (24 percentage points) communities.
These findings fly in the face of the government’s claims that practices such as open defecation and manual scavenging no longer exist in India, based on the fact that toilet access had improved after the building of over 100 million toilets.
A government spokesperson, whom the Hindu reached out to, declined to comment on the matter, calling it a “purely World Bank issue”.
The paper under scanner was churned out based on the data points on toilet access and usage from the government’s National Family Health Surveys, National Sample Surveys, the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS), and the Swachch Bharat Mission-Grameen’s information system.
The NARSS, conducted across rural India from 2017-18 to 2019-20 by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation with World Bank support, showed that as the SBM-G began, it led to a substantial increase in access to own or shared improved toilets in rural India. It rose from 38% in 2012 to 90% in 2019-20, and the last two years during this period saw the fastest increase.
“At the national level, regular use of any toilet [improved or unimproved] increased from 46% to 75% on average in rural areas during 2015-16 and 2019-21. This increase was across all population and socio-economic sub-groups we track, and especially pronounced for the poor and socially disadvantaged groups,” concluded the now-withdrawn paper.
However, there had been reversals. Even as the regular use of any toilet for SC (51 percentage points) and ST (58 percentage points) people saw a jump between 2015-16 and 2018-19, which is almost the same level as those in the General Category, the paper said these gains had begun to reverse since then.
Consequently, from 2018, there had been a 20 percentage point decline in regular use of toilets for the SC population and a 24 percentage point decline for the ST population in comparison to a decline of 9 and 5 percentage points for the Other Backward Caste and General categories respectively, the paper added.