India is to be declared “open-defecation free” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening, although experts question his bold claim that all 1.3 billion people in the country have access to a toilet.
Modi made his “latrines for all” pledge when he first assumed office in 2014 and is hailing the project’s success as India celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a sanitation champion.
Since being elected, Modi’s government says it has built almost 100 million toilets, winning the leader plaudits abroad, including an award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last week.
In March, the government had said fewer than 50 million people relieved themselves outside, down from 550 million in 2014, with more than 550,000 villages declared open-defecation free.
However, experts are sceptical over his claims, citing data from rural as well as urban areas.
“A lot of latrines have been constructed from 2014 to 2018. Latrine ownership increased from about 35 percent to about 70 percent,” said Sangita Vyas from the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE).
“That increase did accelerate the reduction of open defecation but in December 2018 we estimated about half of people in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan still defecated in the open,” she told AFP, doubting that the shortfall has been made up since.
Many of the toilets that have been constructed are without a water connection and even when they are connected, cultural barriers stop many Indians from using them, experts say.