India’s Broken Sanitation System

  • IASbaba
  • May 1, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

India’s Broken Sanitation System

Context: Newly-built “dry latrines” and “hanging toilets” in rural India are the result of the lockdowns of 2020-21 despite the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and a strict ban


  • Decline in Usage: Sanitary toilet usage has declined because of the COVID-19 scare as, currently, more than six lakh toilets in rural India have acute water shortage
  • Emergence of Open-defecation: Small pits filled with human excrement near construction sites in Uttar Pradesh highlight the re-emergence open-defecation pattern in India
  • Issue of “hanging toilets”: In West Bengal, more toilets are found to be constructed as “raised beds with small holes” at the centre. These confinements, known as hanging toilets, are built by families who do not want to use sanitary toilets as they are always filled with excrement and faeces.
  • Substandard Materials Used: In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the toilets in villages have become “death traps” because of the usage of substandard material for construction. 
  • Poor Upkeep of Toilet Infrastructure: Around 1,20,000 toilets have no water supply and thousands of toilets are completely abandoned, with collapsing roofs, water pipes in poor shape and soggy, broken doors.
  • Hotbeds of disease: The usage of both dry latrines and hanging toilets puts the communities around them at high risk of illness, beyond COVID-19. 
  • Increasing Burden on Sanitation Workers: In rural India, long power cuts with no water coverage amidst the pandemic have again put the burden of maintaining sanitary toilets on sanitation workers. “Dry latrines”(toilets without flush or pit latrines) have been the biggest curse for India’s sanitation workers for it becomes additional burden for them to maintain it.
  • Gender-Based Sanitation Insecurity: There is a disproportionate burden faced by women regarding shortage of or the non-availability of sanitation facilities. Women face threats to their life and feel unsafe while seeking a toilet facility or while going out for open defecation.
  • Corruption: Forfeited bills and corruption by contractors keep toilets from having long-lasting infrastructure. 
  • Impact of Lockdown: The lockdowns have again multiplied the sanitation struggle in India, so much so that people are fearing the outcome of using these toilets every day.

Way Ahead

  • Re-Evaluating the State of Toilets: The dependence on unimproved water sources in rural India even within sanitary toilets increases the need to re-evaluate the obsession with toilet construction in India. 
  • Reforms for Sanitation Labours: The sanitation system needs to go hand in hand with the water system, combined with an assessment of sanitation behaviour and sanitation labour reforms in India, at every single step.
  • Eradication of Dry Latrines and Hanging Toilets: The usage of both dry latrines and hanging toilets puts the communities around them at high risk of illness, beyond Covid-19. Therefore, both the construction and usage of these units needs to be eradicated.


Instead of focusing so heavily on building new toilets, we need to address the problems of actual toilet usage in rural India.

Connecting the dots:

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