Swachh Bharat Mission's dig at decentralized data collection: The mSBM app

Monday, June 15, 2015 - 08:01

Census 2011 revealed that 47% of households had access to toilets across the country. Though not enough to be ecstatic, the numbers were certainly better than the 36% recorded in the 2001 Census [1].

The government gathers and compiles details such as these through centralized processes such as the decadal Census and the socio-economic surveys of the National Sample Survey Office directed by the Ministry of Statistics.

A welcome break from offialdom, the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation (MDWS) closely at the heels of the Swachh Bharat Mission’s (SBM) launch came out with a decentralized solution to capture toilet presence and usage data across the country.

Tracking physical presence and usage

In collaboration with the National Informatics Centre, the MDWS launched a mobile-based application to strengthen the SBM’s information system. Currently the service is only available only on the Android platform. An offline version of the same is available as well.

With the help of this app, users can upload photographs of household toilets and geo-tag them by enabling the GPS function. Beneficiary details along with the latitude and longitude details are saved along with the photo in the SBM server.

The app helps to keep track of not just physical presence, but can record details of usage as well. A separate section is dedicated to document toilet usage at the Panchayat level. Compulsory fields include address details along with information relating to whether the toilet is function or defunct, and if so, since when. Separate fields are allocated to collect details regarding water supply and maintenance of the said latrines.

Sneak peek

Although an attempt to document physical presence and usage details of individual household toilets, something the Mission’s predecessor, the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan failed to capture, the mobile app may not necessarily provide a complete picture.

Photos submitted from various gram Panchayats across the country are stored in the central server. While beneficiary details can be viewed online in the ‘Panchayat progress’ section of the SBM site, photos of the uploaded toilets do not appear anywhere on the site. This again raises questions regarding the authenticity of the details regarding physical presence as well as usage.

While in the usage section, there is a field which records details on whether the toilet is functional or not, this does not necessarily give a clear picture as to whether everyone in the household uses the toilet or not. The application files data regarding the presence and usage of toilets and cannot necessarily be used to map the open defecation free status of the family or the village in question. There still can be few members who go out in the open to defecate and currently there is no scope to record such details via the app. 

Despite the vagueness, it is quite heartening to see the government taking a keen interest in using information, communication and technology (ICT) to provide decentralized solutions across sectors. At present, the state governments use the information uploaded via the app in their SBM progress reports to the centre, lending more credibility to the accounting process.

With some clearly worded questions and awareness regarding the app among filed workers and village volunteers, the app can go a long way in bringing about a qualitative change in the way sanitation statistics is recorded or looked at in the country.

You can download the User Manual for the mSBM App from the attachment below.

References

1. Availability and type of latrine facility 2001-2011 - http://censusindia.gov.in/2011census/hlo/Data_sheet/India/Latrine.pdf

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