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NOVEMBER 19, 2015

“Competition for global attention to issues is very high. It is really hard to get attention to subjects like s*it,” Jack Sim, the founder of World Toilet Organization, told us in an interview.

More people in India have mobile phones than toilets. An estimated 600 million individuals in India or 53 per cent of the population have no access to a toilet. This means more children dying, malnourished, suffering stunted growth or diseased; young girls are unable to attend school and women are harassed or assaulted when they go to defecate in the open.


Water-borne diarrhoeal diseases alone result in annual deaths of about 200,000 children below four years of age in India. The situation is worse off in rural areas, where only 32 percent households have their own toilets, according to a survey conducted by NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) in 2012.

Well, today is World Toilet Day, when countries across the world, even if just for a day, conduct a reality check of their sanitation and hygiene levels. We present to you a list of organisations, NGOs, startups, and government initiatives which are spearheading the task of improving hygiene and sanitary standards in India.

Sulabh International

Started over 4 decades back, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak’s resolve to uplift the lot of the scavenger community, paved the way for the biggest sanitation wave in the world. Having witnessed the problem of untouchability during his childhood, Dr. Pathak wished to put an end to manual scavenging and went on to build Sulabh International, which today, is the largest nonprofit organisation in India and counts 50,000 volunteers. Sulabh Shauchalaya has converted about 1.3 million bucket toilets into Sulabh Shauchalayas throughout the country and more than a million scavengers have been liberated with more than 640 towns made scavenging-free.

World Toilet Organisation

The World Toilet Organisation pioneered the creation of SaniShop — a social enterprise that improves sanitation conditions globally by empowering local entrepreneurs. In late 2011, the organisation established its SaniShop model in India to increase access of rural households to safe and affordable sanitation. At the ground level, they have been working closely with local implementing partners eKutir, a social business, based out of Odisha, and Sattva, based out of Bangalore. Between 2013 and 2014, they have built 889 household toilets and trained 51 entrepreneurs in Odisha and Maharashtra, and are now planning to expand their activities and work across other Indian states.


PeeBuddy is the answer to a woman’s urgency to use a clean toilet with proper water supply, something that 1.3 crore toilets in India are unable to provide. Three Delhi boys, tired of listening to women rant – “I wish I could stand and pee wherever I want” – have built an easy to carry, disposable tunnel-shaped paper urination device that ergonomically fits between the legs to enable women to stand and urinate, and have successfully built a business around it. Since the device can only be used when a woman finds a toilet, they also came up with an app that helps locate a nearby toilet in urban areas.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan

India’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan attracted both skepticism and encouragement when it was launched. Many environmentalists claimed that despite high public funding, the campaign is superficial and does not address the problem of waste (especially industrial waste) generation; but those supporting the campaign were happy to see that a dialogue around cleanliness and sanitation had started at such massive scale.

Under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, that aims to eliminate open defecation, nearly 95 lakh toilets were constructed in rural areas last year, as claimed by Birender Singh Chaudhary, Union Minister of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Sanitation and Drinking Water. The challenge however, is to maintain these toilets. A survey indicated that out of the total six crore toilets constructed over the past several years, about 1.3 crore toilets have become non-functional and defunct. It was also reported that less than half of the anganwadi centres have toilets.

Under the Swachh Vidyalaya campaign, 2.86 lakh toilets were constructed in schools, with Andaman and Nicobar, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Kerala, Puducherry and Sikkim achieving 100 per cent target. Other states were not far behind in taking great initiatives, for instance, Andhra Pradesh partnered with WHO to build sixty lakh toilets by 2018, Punjab received funds of Rs 2,200 crore from the World Bank for its sanitation project.

Indian Railways has joined the bandwagon too, and announced to make its tracks on two routes free from discharge of waste from toilets by installing environment-friendly zero discharge toilet system in their coaches.


Created by Kunal Sheth in 2010, GottaGo is a free app that lets urban users find public restrooms nearby across malls, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, railway stations, museums, etc. The restrooms are displayed on a map or list with the distance from the user’s location and directions of how to get there. The idea was born when Kunal recognised the importance of finding a clean restroom when travelling within the city with friends and family. With increasing commutes, traffic and lack of clean public infrastructure, travellers often find themselves searching for a restroom nearby. There are other similar apps available too, including Mutralaya, Flush, Swach Bharat Toilet Locator, ToiletFirst, and Susuvida.