India ODF
Environment Op-ed Sanitation & Cleanliness

When and how will India become Open Defecation Free (ODF) ?

We have heard of ancient Cities in Indus Valley Civilization with well-designed sewerage network system. Even in the recent history, we can find out that, Indians used to cover their excreta with soil like a cat does it. But, today in India, in our villages we see hundreds of people carrying a mug of water for defecating in open every morning. Proper containment of excreta is a must for preventing the fecal oral transmission of pathogens. Many socio-economic parameters can be linked to open defecation including Infant Mortality Rate, school dropout rate, average life expectancy, etc.

The Govt of India has been working for improving sanitation in India from 1986. First one was Central Rural Sanitation Program in 1986. Then came Total Sanitation Campaign in 1999. Then in 2012, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan begun. And when the NDA came to power in 2014, PM Modi launched “Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)”on October 2nd2014 with the aim of making India “Open Defecation Free(ODF)” by October 2nd2019, as a tribute on the 150thbirth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Our neighboring country, Bangladesh is already ODF.

India ODF
Sanitation awareness through triggering and wall painting

Public health and sanitation is a State subject in India. But right from 1986, the Union Govt has been offering its support to the States to provide people this most basic necessity. But, what’s the difference between the earlier programs and the current mission which is the pet project of PM Modi? Selection criteria of beneficiaries is different and the amount of incentive for each beneficiary has been enhanced. But the most important difference is its approach. Instead of the top-down approach which was followed in earlier programs, SBM follows a bottom-up approach.

The 1ststep is to create awareness among the villagers and to generate demand for toilets. If this step is not done, then there won’t be any ownership for the toilets and they might end up being used as storeroom for firewood or a place for keeping their goats. Though you have Amitabh Bachchan and Vidya Balan appearing on TV every now and then asking you to construct toilet, what generally works is personal communication. Once the demand is generated, the Government facilitates the construction of toilets by arranging contractors and building material. The expenses are to be borne by the villagers. Once the toilet is constructed and used sustainably, the incentive amount of INR 12,000/- is given to the beneficiary. Please note the word ‘incentive’. It is a not a subsidy for constructing the toilet, but an incentive for the change in their behavior of using toilet instead of defecating in open.

India ODF
Triggering at a village

The District Administration selects a resource person with good communication skills from each village and trains them on sanitation aspects who are known as motivators. The trained motivator is given the responsibility of bringing behavioral change in their village.

Let’s know about a scientifically tested method for behavioral change known as ‘Triggering’. During triggering, the villagers are gathered at a public spot. The motivators starts by speaking to villagers regarding sanitation. Then she takes them to the open defecation spot. She picks up a strand of hair, keeps it on excreta and then keeps the hair in a glass of water and offers it to the villagers. The villagers are sensitized that how their excreta travels to their food with houseflies as the vectors. Then they also speak about the difficulties a woman faces when she goes for defecting in open. The villagers are made to feel disgusting and shameful. This triggers them to construct and use toilet.

The Village fixes a date by which it would become ODF. Then a surveillance committee is formed consisting of men, women and children. The committee members are made to wake up early in the morning and stop the villagers from defecating in open by using whistles, torch and by speaking.Awareness is also generated at schools, Anganwadi centers, primary health care centers and during festivals and fairs. 100% sanitation can be achieved only with the convergence of all stakeholders involved, i.e. health department, education department, social welfare department, etc.

India ODF
Triggering at a school

The mission also focuses on establishment and maintenance of men’s and women’s sanitary complexes with provision of incinerators for burning sanitary napkins. Solid and liquid waste management infrastructure for the village is also planned and established using SBM funds.This mission can become successful only when each and everyone gets involved and this becomes a revolution like the Independence movement. Already five states have become ODF. They are Sikkim, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand.

I urge the young professionals and students to support the Swachh Bharat team in making our whole country ODF.


(This article is the 1st part of a series of articles. The author is a Zilla Swachh Bharat Prerak working in Pudukkottai District of Tamil Nadu. For more details he can be contacted at