Nirmal Gram Yojana: More statistics than substance?

Prasanna Kapoor

One of the darkest spot on the face of an otherwise Shining and Resurgent India is the practice of open defecation. Not only is the sight of people relieving themselves in the open distressing to the observer, but it also lowers the dignity of the person involved and is disastrous for the environment. People travelling early morning along highways or in trains are faced with the revolting sight and smell of men’s and women’s rears defecating along the roads and along railway tracks, squatting often in a line.

The problem of toilets in India

In a country, where in 26 Century BC all houses in the Indus Valley Civilization had water flushed toilets[1] the present scenario is distressing. According to the latest Census figures a whooping 53.1 % of all households in India do not have a toilet, the figures for rural and urban households being 69.3% & 18.6% respectively. Though the figures have come down by about 10 % points since the last census in 2001, lot more work has to be done.

Reasons for not having toilets in India include poverty, ignorance, lack of space and to some extent “tradition”. It is seen “normal” to some to defecate in the open and faulty beliefs like “doing dirty things outside the house” also contribute to some extent.

Government’s efforts at addressing the problem

Government woke up only in the mid – 1980s, during the Sixth Five Year Plan, to the problem of sanitation and the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) was launched in 1986.  Initially, the CRSP was executed by the Central Public Health &  Environmental Engineering Organisation, under the Ministry of Urban Development with the sole aim of constructing toilets at government’s expense.

It failed miserably and in 1992 it was revised on the recommendations of National Seminar on Rural Sanitation. The revised plan aimed at an integrated approach for rural sanitation  .   It was merged with the Department of Rural Development and public campaign was launched to educate the public about needs for toilets, on the lines of immunization and family planning campaign.

In April 1999, CRSP was further modified and integrated with Total Sanitation Campaign. TCS was a community led people oriented program rather than a project imposed by the Central government. It’s main feature was to raise awareness among the masses and then generate a demand; the government would supplement the people’s capacity to build toilets by giving financial subsidies. IEC ( Information, Education and Communication) is the cornerstone of TCS and aims at affecting a change in society, especially the younger age group, by targeted communication.

The initial response to TCS was sluggish and according to figures on Government’s annual reports, the sanitation growth rates hovered from 1% to 9%.  To achieve a higher growth rate, the government launched the Nirmal Gram Yojana in 2003, which was operationalized in 2004 and the sanitation growth rates spiked to over 13%.

Nirmal Gram Puruskar

Worried about the lack luster performance of TSC, government in 2003 launched the NGP. It came into effect from 2004 and the first awards were given in 2005.

NGP aimed at involving the basic community level structure, the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in the effort to stop open defecation and in IEC by making them shareholders in the process.  All the three PRIs viz Gram Panchayats, Intermediate Panchayats and District Panchayats are covered.

  • The main objectives of NGP are: 
    1. To bring sanitation to the forefront of social and political discourse for development of rural India.
    2. To develop open defecation free and clean villages that will serve as a model of other villages to emulate.
    3. To give incentive to PRI’s to sustain the initiatives taken by them to eliminate open defecation by ensuring full sanitation coverage.
    4. To increase the social mobilization in the implementation of TCS by appreciating the important role played by various organizations in achieving total sanitation. 
  • The awards are given to PRI’s, NGOs working in the field of sanitation, Blocks & Districts, who fulfill the following criterion: 
    1. The PRI should have achieved all components as approved in the TCS project for that PRI.
    2. All households in the PRI area must have access to and all members should be using individual toilets or community complexes.
    3. When households are using community toilet complexes instead of individual toilets, the community toilet complex must have one latrine seat for a maximum of three households. The community toilets will be maintained and kept clean & functional by these families.
    4. All Government, aided and unaided private schools and Anganwadi must have clean and functional toilets and urinals. All co-educational schools above the primary level must have separate urinal and toilet blocks for boys and girls. Adequate toilets and urinals must be available separately for boys and girls.
    5. Complete elimination of open defecation within the boundaries of the PRI. Nobody, including the floating population defecates in the open and child faeces are disposed off in toilets.
    6. The applicant Gram Panchayat / all Gram Panchayats in the applicant PRI jurisdiction should have adopted a resolution in the Gram Sabha to ban open defecation in the area of that GP. The resolution must also include provisions for suitable penalty on the offenders and a system of monitoring open defecation.
    7. All public water sources to have proper platforms and drainages around them.
    8. The PRI must have a functional mechanism for household garbage disposal and a functional drainage system and cleanliness should be maintained in the inhabited areas.
    9. The PRI should not have applied and disqualified for NGP thrice during the previous years. 
  • There is a similar list of criterion for organizations working in the field of sanitation. 
  • Processing of NGP Award Applications : Applications for NGP are routed, after verification of the claims, through the State Government to the Ministry of Water Supply & Sanitation (MWSS) which then cross checks the claims through an independent agency. Of all the accepted applications, 30% are again cross checked by teams from different States.
  • NGP awards include a citation and a memento, presented by the President of India, at an official ceremony in Delhi. For PRIs there is a financial award in addition, varying from ₹50,000 to ₹ 5,00,000  depending upon the population of the institution. 
  • Procedure for release of award money: MWSS transfers the incentive money to State DWS Mission immediately on declaration of the awards. The State DWS releases half the money to the awardee PRI immediately and half after a period six months after carrying out another verification of Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. In case the ODF status is found to be compromised, the second installment is not released. 
  • The award money may be used for any purpose of improving and maintaining sanitation facilities in their areas. It may NOT be used for
    • Payment for creating of permanent posts involving payment of salaries
    • Organization of Melas, Conferences, Symposiums or Sports events.
    • Purchase of computers, mobiles, furniture or vehicles.
    • Any other matter as decided by the PRI.  

While on paper Nirmal Gram Panchayat sounds like an excellent Government scheme, the author of this paper seeks to find out if it is all about statistics or is there quality also in the scheme by reviewing available literature and personally visiting two NGPs in Dehra Dun and examining their status critically.

Press & Literature review of NGP Awards  

1.    Report on NGP prepared for UNICEF by TARU:  TARU, a Delhi based Consultancy[2], in 2008 carried out a survey of 162 NGP awarded PRIs across six states and its findings were an eye opener.  Of the 162 PRI’s surveyed, only 6 ( 4%) maintained their ODF status. 19% of population in those PRIs did not have toilets and of the 81% which had, 66% were using the toilets as store rooms or cattle sheds. Even among those families with toilets, it emerged that in 30% cases atleast one family member continued to defecate in the open. Among the reasons for not using the toilets were incomplete toilets, no water, reluctance to change “traditional” behavior & damaged or blocked toilets. Insufficient number of toilets and broken down toilets were reported in schools. On an average, 20% of schools did not have toilets and of those having toilets, 16% did not have separate toilets for boys and girls.  In Chattisgarh,  80% of girls in schools had to go in open field to urinate, while the figure was 7% in UP. Another interesting fact which came out of the survey was that while prior to receiving the NGP award, 51% families reported atleast one contact with Social Mobilization Campaign, there was a severe drop in the campaign after the award was received, only 25% had any contact with a campaign. After the NGP Award, 56% reported no reduction in the incidence of water borne diseases, while 40% felt a reduction. 

2.      Survey in Himachal Pradesh by Institute of Development Studies, UK: In a survey carried out in Himachal Pradesh[3] in October 2010 it was revealed that 87% of NGP Villages were completely free of any smell or signs of Open Air Defecation. Only 22% NGP villages had good waste management system in place.

3.      Survey in Karnataka by Arghyam: Arghyam, a Bangluru based NGO[4], surveyed 14 NGPs in 2009 and found on an average 31% NGP having open air defecation.

4.      Press Review of NGY: Press reports point out the top down approach in the implementation of NGY. Instead of PRI’s demanding NGP, officials pressurize the PRIs in order to meet their targets, often punishing villagers in the process.

a.       The Hindu on 17th May 2006[5], reported that in Belgaum District of Karnataka government officials pressed the PRIs and local NGOs to work for NGP and the focus was on building toilets rather than Social Mobilization.

b.      In Sept 2007 Punjab Rural Development Secretary instructed all his officers to implement the NGY “at a fast pace” by constructing toilets.

c.       Economic & Political Weekly, in october 25, 2008 carried a report by Soumendra Mohann Patnaik & Nilika Mehrotra entitled “Culture versus Coercion: Other side of Nirmal Gram Yojana” in which the authors witnessed the District Administration of Bastar District of Chattisgarh, going into an overdrive to achieve 100% coverage in 3 months on instructions of a State Minister, forcing, punishing and even confiscating goods of poor villagers who did not have toilets.

d.      In an article published in International Journal of Rural Studies[6] on 1st April 2009, the author, Benny George reports of incorrect verification of ODF status, complaints received by the MWSS against irregularities in the verification and relapse of open air defecation after receiving NGP.

e.       Times of India on August 28 2010[7], quote the District Magistrate of Pune laying down a  target of 100% sanitation coverage in 100 days, with CEO of Pune Zilla Parishad warning villagers that the district will not give them loans if they don’t build toilets within the time. In November[8] the administration even suspended registration of land and stopped allotment of 7/12 land extracts to those who had not built toilets in their home.

f.       In a report published in Guardian Newspaper on 9th June 2011[9], the author reported extreme coercion in Karnataka to force people against defecating in open. Methods included throwing stones at people found defecating in open, locking up their houses and humiliating in class rooms students whose homes did not have a toilet. They also found unused toilets and toilets used as a chicken pen.

g.      Deccan Herald on 30th July 2011[10] published a report of a High School in an NGP village near Manglore not having a single toilet.

h.      Report in Business Standard on 8th June 2012[11] quoted the Village Development Officer of Bhadeshar Mau, a village in Malihabad tehsil of Lucknow, as admitting that while the UP government spent around 3.5 lakhs for constructing toilets for around 300 families who live in the village, yet most have been using the toilet as a store and have simply stopped using it. 

Review of two NGP Villages: 

1.      Khariman Singh Village 

Khariman Singh Village, about 10 kms from Dehra Dun got NGP award in 2009. The PRI consists of 5 hamlets with total population of 1000 & has 100 houses. 39 year old, Sunita Chauhan has been the Pradhan since 2008 and speaks of the intense campaign she and her husband did to get villagers to build their own toilets. The motivation behind working for the NGP was pride and award money.  They even donated their personal money to a few poor families to make their own toilets. The award money was used for making two garbage bins and removing of bushes. There is one primary school in the PRI area and has two functional common toilets. The village has no public toilets, even though there are daily laborers who work in the village fields. Sunita insists that they do use the toilets of the persons who hire them. The Pradhan claimed that the village had maintained it’s ODF status and a walk around the village did not reveal any signs of open air defecation.

2.       Bhist Gaon 

12 kms from Dehra Dun is Bisht Gaon and Hanshul Devi has been its Pradhan for the last 2 years.  The Panchayat has a population of about 800-1000 in about 150 houses in three villages.  Hanshul Devi did not remember the village getting the NGP award. It was the ex Pradhan, Son Singh, who revealed that the village did get the award in 2006. Son Singh claimed to have spent personal money and some government grants for constructing 27 toilets for receiving the NGP. , The award money was used to make more toilets and the Panchayat Bhawan. On questioning Hanshul Devi admitted that around 9 families and migrant laborers do defecate in the open. It has one primary school which has two clean toilets.


Based on review of available literature and author’s personal experience, the following observations can be made:

  1. Nirmal Gram Yojana has been a tremendous success and has significantly made a difference in the lives of ordinary Indians. The surge in sanitation coverage in TSC seen after 2005 can only be attributed to it. It has not only resulted in improving sanitation but also brought the, otherwise boring topic of sanitation, into National media focus. Award giving by the President of India and the award money are two important motivating factors for aspiring PRIs.
  2. The most important aspect of NGY is the attitude change which IEC brings about, if not in the present generation, then at least in the younger generation.
  3. Health and economic benefits have accrued following improved sanitation.
  4. However all that glitters is not gold. The scheme suffers from the following drawbacks:
    1. In a bid to achieve quick success, focus seems to have shifted at places, to merely construction of large number of toilets rather than IEC.
    2. Instead of the society asking for toilets, as the NGY was originally designed to, at many places it is the pressure from higher levels to get villages declared as NGP which seems to put pressure on the administration which in turn presses the local population and as noted sometimes exerts coercive pressures too.
    3. Motivation for NGP seems to be pride of being awarded by the President of India and the monetary benefits rather than genuine desire for improving the sanitation in the long run.
    4. Incidences of false reporting of ODF status and failure for repeat inspections to detect the error are a cause of concern.
    5.  Poor quality of construction, non-availability of water, lack of knowledge of proper maintenance, lack of money / parts for repairs of broken down toilets and fixed mindset seem to be major causes of restarting of open air defecation.
    6. As of now, NGY is a one-time affair, once a PRI is labeled as NGP, the label stays even if the ODF status is lost. Once the awards and the money is given to the Pradhan, there is nothing else to look forwards to, so there is no effort to ensure maintenance of ODF status or for continuing IEC. As the author’s interaction with the Pradhan of Bhist Goan showed, even the new Pradhan was not even aware of the NGP status of the PRI.
    7. The Second post award inspection is done after 6 months of the award, which appears to be too soon. The impartiality and the thoroughness of the inspection needs to be ensured.
    8. The utilization of the Award Money seems to be the prerogative of the Pradhan and its utilization for clearing of bushes seems to be inappropriate. 


1.      To prevent pressure and coercion from administration, whenever there are press reports of such incidents, the PRI should be temporarily disqualified from the NGY for a period of 2 years.

2.         The structure of NGP awards needs to be totally changed so as to:

a.  Remove the lure of money as the main attraction for the NGY. Since in both the villages the author visited, the Pradhan spent personal money in making toilets to achieve NGP, the lure of award money seems apparent.

b.   Ensure that instead of NGP being a one-time event, where the PRI is ODF at that particular period of 6 months, it becomes an event in which the ODF is maintained for at least 5 years. This way at least 2 different Pradhans will be involved in the project, thus widening the involvement of local community.

3.     The author proposes the NGP be modified in the following way:

a.     After a PRI is awarded the NGP, the President of India gives the memento and citation. No cash prize is given at that time. Instead the State Government makes a public toilet in the PRI area which is maintained by the PRI. This will ensure that there are public toilets for migrating population and those families who do not have a toilet but may have been undetected by the inspections.

b.      Six monthly inspections are carried out by different teams to ensure that ODF status is maintained.

c.       The cash prize is given after a period of five years.

d.      The Cash prize maybe be utilized as per local requirements and under existing norms, only after each village in the PRI has at least one public toilet. The funds must be used for making public toilets in each village under the PRI and the remaining amount can then be used as per requirements.

e.        A plaque stating that the village is a NGP and has ODF status should be displayed in the center of the village and should be inaugurated by a local VIP. Fines for open defecation should be mentioned in the plaque. 


While NGY has achieved spectacular results, the figures give an erroneous view of existing ground realities, which are not as good as they seem. Review of available literature and authors personal visits to NGP villages indicate a need to revisit the NGP,  9 years after it was launched. Suggestions for a total revamp of the existing system have been enumerated in the paper. If implemented the author feels that the current horde to achieve NGP will be drastically reduced but those who do get the NGP will be more likely to maintain the ODF status.

[1] Indus Valley Civilization, Ref: Rodda, J. C. and Ubertini, Lucio (2004). The Basis of Civilization – Water Science? pg 161. International Association of Hydrological Sciences (International Association of Hydrological Sciences Press 2004).




About the Author

Prasanna Kapoor is a Dehradun based Lawyer and social worker who has taken upon community development and environment as her passion. This research has been adjudged best in the field of NGP by Hamlet To Globe for the month of Nov 2013 and Prasanna Kapoor has been requested to present the paper during the next convention of H2G.

One comment

  1. Rohan Swamy /

    This event will be awaited

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