Why we should not set ‘targets’ for ODF

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is a revamped programme on sanitation launched by the H’ble Prime Minister, with a clear focus on outcomes. The programme was drafted carefully, looking at learnings from past sanitation programmes in the rural sector. Despite many programmes, the rural sanitation coverage rate did not get much success, for varied reasons. The primary reason was inability to implement programme in a pure ‘demand driven’ way, and lack of capacities to trigger behavioural change, required for this demand generation. The programme thus, more or less remained a government programme, with focus on targets.

The Prime Minister has desired SBM to be a programme with an approach of citizen involvement, and not a top-down Government programme. The programme therefore provides flexibility to States to choose their approach and implementation strategy, that best suits them. The role of Government of India is to keep the focus on behaviour change, so that results are sustainable. Government of India also focuses on achievement of open daefecation-free ( ODF) villages.

ODF basically signifies emphasis on collective behaviour change. There have earlier also been attempts to achieve this through institution of a reward scheme called Nirmal Gram Puraskar ( NGP). The scheme provided a cash award and an opportunity to be photographed with the President of India, to sarpanches who made their villages Nirmal. The scheme helped in raising the collective consciousness towards sanitation – however, competition and carrot of award, soon brought in misreporting/ construction of toilets without due behaviour change or involvement of entire communities. Independent evaluations of NGP awardee villages brought out that most of the NGP villages slipped back and could not maintain the ODF status. ( the scheme has been discontinued now).

A similar thing happened in case of toilet targets. Pressure on achieving numbers resulted in claim of close to 70% rural coverage with access to toilets in 2011. However, the census 2011 revealed that actual usage of toilets was much lesser – close to 30%.

All these lessons have been internalised and gone into the new SBM, where we have to be careful not to repeat mistakes of the past; and strive to keep the focus on behaviour change for sustainable outcomes. This is also in line with the new SDGs, that emphasise sustainability of outcomes.

Mechanisms are being put into place to carefully implement this new strategy. The term ODF has been defined for uniform parameters. In order to increase State ownership ( as per the Constitution’s mandate), the States have been asked to devise their own mechanisms for verifying ODF. They have been given indicative guidelines for the same. Focus on ODF has been given through repeated interactions with States and districts. The States are also being guided and helped on developing their capacities in community engagement to implement the programme in a real demand-driven manner.

The feedback from the States is that now there is much more genuine effort at achieving outcomes. They share that much of this is because there is no pressure of ‘targets’. There is a broad vision and goal of 2019, and States are doing their best to achieve that. Around 38,000 villages have been declared as ODF themselves by the States, and initial feedback indicates up to 90% of these may be verified as actually ODF. The process of verification is ongoing. A mechanism for second level check of third party sample verification  through GoI is also being put into place.

Any attempt to set ‘targets’ for ODF may be retrograde and detrimental to the programme. The ODF villages translate into toilets, and there is already a road map of the expected number of toilets to be constructed each year till 2019. A direct targeting of ODF will not be desirable, since it will roll out a number chasing attempt by the districts, and also false reporting; which will affect sustainability.


4 thoughts on “Why we should not set ‘targets’ for ODF

  1. Absolutely correct sir. In my district Gonda UP we have developed a new concept of implementation of SBM. I have observed that at this awareness level we can achieve 40 percent coverage. Once construction of toiles starts awareness level increase. With the involvement of community in toilet construction the level of usage improved tremendously. Once we got 100 percent coverage. After certain period open defecation reduces tremendously. CLTS approach is just an approach of creating awareness. If CLTS approach is followed by quality construction of toilets by beneficiaries it is the surety of sustainable approach of ODF.


  2. Absolutely, nice recap of the programmatic aspects, need and roadmap. The SBM seem to have become a fight between – Governance Plus Administration and Peoples’ Need, Priority Plus Choice. Indian Society rather communities have time and again invested in collective actions to stand together so as to say on many instances like that of natural disasters and calamities. Hope they stand once again for this unhygienic disaster by supporting and accepting the Clean India. Many changes occurred in programmatic guidelines from target driven to demand driven to rewards and recognition but unfortunately couple of things are yet to be addressed – a. New Champions – increased hands to scale up the scaling up and b. Forgotten Champions – rather instead of keeping the hands up; they are down. Probably unless we add to the number of High Fives, ODF will remain a challenge not only till 2019 but till 2030 SDGs or may be even beyond that too. People talk about Capacity Gaps but the Dream of 2019 will need Sanitation Soldiers rather Army followed by efforts to increase their capacities.

    Direct ODF Approach might result in increased coverage but only 2022 Census can narrate the story. At 38,000 ODF villages, India stands only close to 20% ODF Status. Still Long Way to Go! Big Questions – Will we be able to crack the complex sanitation issue in the country:

    – with temporary external monitoring mechanisms,
    – without addressing the slipped backs,
    – with little HR in hand (bound by administrative limitations)
    – without meaningful contribution by non-state actors
    – with droughts looming around in many areas (water scarcity and poor water management)
    – without mechanism of appropriate technological solutions (need to go beyond limited technologies; SBM, like previous attempts, too, is linked to 2 pits or single pit)

    And many more With and Without (s)!! Probably What will Matter is the Consistency, Coordination, Collaboration, Capacities and Social Capitals. However, YES, SETTING ODF TARGETS, for sure IS NOT THE ANSWER!


  3. Very nice comments. Anand ji, Thanks. Would like to add you to National Swachh Bharat HIKE group, comprising all State/district/non-State players, for better cross-discussion. May pls send me your mobile number at 9650307575, and download HIKE APP on your mobile (It’s similar to WhatsAPP)


  4. Sir;
    I have gone through your lecture at Indian science congress.
    It was very heartening that you have put together complex concept of ODF comunity in simple terms.

    I am agreed that no targets should be set for ODF.
    But at grassroots situation is quite opposite.
    Completion of target i.e. construction of toilets is given to much attention and not the usage.


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