Why Public Toilets in India Remain Unclean Despite Swachh Bharat Abhiyan


The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), launched in 2014 with the ambitious goal of making India “open defecation free” (ODF) by 2019, has undoubtedly made significant strides. India has constructed millions of toilets, achieving ODF status in most rural areas. However, a critical aspect of sanitation remains neglected – the state of public toilets. Despite the campaign’s success in building toilets, many remain unclean and unusable, hindering the true spirit of the initiative.

Understanding the Problem:

Several factors contribute to the uncleanliness of public toilets in India:

  • Lack of Maintenance: A crucial component often overlooked is the inadequate maintenance of these facilities. Frequent cleaning, water supply, and proper waste disposal are essential for hygiene, but these are often neglected, leading to unhygienic and unusable conditions.
  • Social Stigma: In India, toilets are often associated with purity and pollution, leading to a social stigma attached to using public toilets, particularly among women and certain social groups. This discourages usage and contributes to the overall neglect of these facilities.
  • Inadequate Infrastructure: Many public toilets lack basic amenities like proper ventilation, lighting, and water supply, making them unattractive and unusable. Additionally, the design and construction are sometimes poorly planned, leading to issues such as overflowing sewage and unpleasant odors.
  • Lack of Ownership and Accountability: The ownership and responsibility for public toilets can be unclear, leading to a lack of accountability for their maintenance and cleanliness. This creates a situation where no single entity takes ownership, resulting in neglect.
  • Financial Sustainability: Building toilets is just one step. Funding for ongoing maintenance is crucial for ensuring long-term hygiene and usability. However, a lack of sustainable funding models can hinder proper maintenance and upkeep.

Consequences of Unclean Toilets:

The consequences of unclean public toilets are far-reaching:

  • Public Health: Unclean toilets pose a significant health risk, as they can be breeding grounds for harmful pathogens, leading to the spread of diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid. This disproportionately affects women and children, who are more vulnerable to hygiene-related illnesses.
  • Dignity and Privacy: The lack of clean and accessible toilets violates an individual’s right to dignity and privacy. This can lead to negative experiences, particularly for women and girls, who may be forced to refrain from using public spaces out of fear of using an unclean toilet.
  • Economic Impact: Unclean toilets can also have a negative economic impact on tourism and businesses that rely on foot traffic. Tourists may be discouraged from visiting areas with inadequate sanitation facilities, and businesses may struggle to attract customers due to a lack of clean restrooms.

Moving Forward: A Multipronged Approach to Sustainable Hygiene:

To ensure hygiene in public toilets, a multipronged approach is needed:

  • Community Engagement: Raising awareness about the importance of clean toilets, addressing the social stigma associated with them, and promoting community ownership can foster a sense of responsibility for maintaining these facilities. This could involve involving local communities in the planning, construction, and maintenance of public toilets.
  • Improved Infrastructure: Public toilets should be built with user-friendly designs that are well-ventilated, adequately lit, and equipped with basic amenities like running water and proper waste disposal systems. This will ensure a more pleasant experience and encourage their use.
  • Sustainable Funding and Maintenance: Establishing sustainable funding models for continued maintenance is crucial. This could involve public-private partnerships, user fees, or incorporating toilet maintenance into sanitation budgets. Additionally, training and empowering sanitation workers to ensure proper cleaning and hygiene practices is essential.
  • Technology and Innovation: Technological solutions like smart toilets with sensors for monitoring water and cleanliness, and automated waste disposal systems, can help improve efficiency and ensure hygiene.
  • Policy and Enforcement: Implementing stronger policies and enforcing existing regulations regarding public toilet cleanliness, along with holding relevant authorities accountable, can create a framework for better sanitation practices.


Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has undoubtedly made progress, but achieving true sanitation requires more than just building toilets. Addressing the issue of unclean public toilets needs a holistic approach that combines improved infrastructure, sustainable funding, community engagement, and technological innovation. By creating awareness, fostering a sense of ownership, and ensuring proper maintenance, India can move towards achieving clean and accessible public toilets for all, safeguarding public health, dignity, and economic prosperity.

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