Open Defecation Free Odisha high in statistics, low on facts!

NARSS 2018-19 finds open defecation along the roadsides in a massive 70.7 per cent of villages in the State. Excreta spotted in public places in nearly 4% ODF villages & 6% ODF villages have no disposal mechanism for child excreta

Bhubaneswar: As Odisha goes on a celebratory mood claiming itself as Open Defecation Free (ODF) on Mahatma’s 150 birth anniversary, the wise words of well known American writer Mark Twain that “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable” buzz aloud.

Sample this.  The statistics show toilet coverage in Odisha has jumped to a perfect 100 per cent in 2019.  Since statistics often tell half of the story, the revelations made by National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) – 2018-19 bares the chinks in State’s ODF distinction.

As per NARSS 2018-19, even if Odisha is having nearly 96 per cent ‘functional’ toilets in its villages, open defecation along roads in villages in the State is extraordinarily high. The Survey commissioned by Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation (now Jal Shakti) and carried out by IPE Global and KantarPublic (an arm of IMRB) has conducted field visits across the states, including Odisha, in early 2019.

The field visits in Odisha find that rampant open defecation was witnessed along the roadsides in a massive 70.7 per cent of villages in the State. The number shot up to a whopping 82.4 per cent at infamous places in the villages in the State.

Overall, the startling disclosure by the NARSS is in nearly 4 per cent of self-declared ODF villages in the State, excreta was spotted in public spots that clearly debunks Odisha’s ODF claims. It also disclosed that nearly 2 per cent households in ODF villages in the State have no access to toilets.

Significantly, a high of 6 per cent ODF villages have no disposal mechanism for child excreta.

Moreover, in at least 2 per cent Odisha’s ODF villages, the sanitary condition of the toilets itself is very unhygienic.

Accessibility to toilets alone cannot make villages/habitations ODF.

Take the instance of Aanganwadi Centres (AWCs) in ODF villages. The accessibility has been 100 per cent but the functional toilets have been around 96 per cent. The slippage tells all.

It’s not the rural survey alone. A reality check from just 300-200 metres from the Bhubaneswar Railway Station tells a nauseating tale about Odisha’s ODF story.

A recent survey done by a private NGO reveals that slums alongside Bhubaneswar Railway Station have poor access to toilet facility. And BMC authorities wash off their hands terming the slum as unrecognised or say illegal.

According to the Census 2011 data, a high of 76 towns from a total of 107 statutory towns in Odisha harbour slums. The slums have a population of over 15.6 lakh, and nearly 50 per cent (7.5 lakh) of them dwell in un-recognised or illegal slums. And nearly 8 lakh go for open defecation in the State.

The bottomline: Though in the Swachh Bharat Mission, Odisha did well to ensure the universal accessibility of toilets after a tortoise like start, accomplishing the ODF distinction is still a long road ahead.