Women hold latrines at the International Toilet Festival in New Delhi on Nov 18, 2014 (photo: AFP)
The government is launching a nationwide online programme to check whether people are using the new toilets built under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cleanliness drive. From February, officials will use mobile phones, tablets and iPads to report on whether toilets are being used in rural India, with results uploaded onto a website in real time.
According to a World Bank study, the shortage of toilets costs India more than $50 billion a year, mostly through premature deaths and hygiene-related diseases. About 626 million Indians defecate in the open compared with 14 million in China, the World Health Organization said in a 2012 report.
Since taking office in May, Modi has targeted the poor state of sanitation and public cleanliness in India. The government has doubled spending on a toilet-building programme and built half a million latrines in homes. But many people still prefer to defecate outside.
"Earlier, the monitoring was done only about the construction of toilets, but now the actual use of toilets will be ascertained on a sustained basis," the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
To check whether thousands of newly built toilets are being used, sanitation inspectors will go door-to-door to survey household lavatory use, noting the results on mobile phones and tablets.
In its news release, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation said this would provide a nationwide real time monitoring of the use of toilets.
Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, and promised to build half a million toilets within 100 days. The government says it has built 503,142 household latrines since then.
According to BBC News, some of the new toilets are being used as storerooms by people who consider toilets at home unhygienic.
Studies in the past have suggested that many people in rural India, despite having working toilets at home, continue to go out into the open believing it is more sanitary to defecate far from home.
Campaigners say that building toilets is not enough and that motivating people to use them is equally important.
“Sanitation is a mindset issue. (The aim is to) create demand by triggering behavior change,” the government statement said.
Modi has pledged to make India "100% free" of open defecation by 2019.