Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free (Indian government publication)

  • F H Mughal
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Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free (Indian government publication)

Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free

As shown in the attachment, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India, vide its letter of 9 June 2015, addressed to all administrative secretaries, defines ODF (open defecation free) as:

ODF is the termination of fecal-oral transmission, defined by:

(a) No visible feces found in the environment/village; and
(b) Every house as well as public/community institutions using safe technology option for disposal of feces.

Safe technology option means no contamination of surface soil, groundwater or surface water’ excreta inaccessible to flies or animals; no handling of fresh excreta; and freedom from odor and unsightly condition.

The definition seems fairly reasonable and right. The definition confines itself to the “termination of fecal-oral transmission.”

According to Bartram and Cairncross (2010), the fecal-oral route include potentially waterborne or waterwashed diseases, like Hepatitis A, E, and F poliomyelitis, viral diarrhoeas, campylobacteriosis, cholera, pathogenic E. coli, salmonellosis, typhoid, paratyphoid, amoebiasis, cryptosporidiosis Giardiasis

(Bartram J, Cairncross S (2010) Hygiene, Sanitation, and Water: Forgotten Foundations of Health. PLoS Med 7(11): e1000367. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000367 Published November 9, 2010)

There are other water-washed diseases that do not fall within the ambit of fecal-oral route. These are: skin and eye infections, like, scabies conjunctivitis and trachoma; and louse-borne infections, like relapsing fever. Perhaps, non-hygienic physical-contact route can be added as well, in additional to the fecal-oral route.

Specific to India is the fact that OD takes place mostly along the railway track (see the WaterAid video: Across the Tracks - ). Why it is so? – perhaps Mr. Pawan can tell us.

So, the point at (a) No visible feces found in the environment/village may be revisited to include railway tracks.

The point (b), and the clarification of “safe technology option ,” is excellent, as in most case, poorly managed household toilets in rural areas discharge the feces outside the houses, which I call as “indirect” OD.

F H Mughal

Kevin Taylor: You have traveled extensively. Are their some specific spots in countries, including Pakistan, where OD takes place near a particular spot – along canals, depressions, mounds, etc; just like railway tracks in India?

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan

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Re: Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free

The odd thing (or maybe not..) about this definition is that it is a technological measure, but doesn't actually show anything about practice.

So, presumably, a village could be ODF if all the villagers defecated outside of the village and had latrines that they did not use. Or if they covered their faeces so it was not obvious.
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  • jankn
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Re: Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free

Thanks for that post.

If I remember correctly, some time around 2012, Sikkim has been announced the first open-defecation free state in India, right?

If the term ODF was now just recently (re)defined by the Government of India, does someone here know what definition was used back then? And would the "new" definition have changed anything on Sikkim's status?

In the letter attached, it was mentioned, that the given definition should from now on be the standard to classify ODF panchayats... It would be great to see if there was an overview of the number (and maybe even locations) of the panchayats that achieved ODF status and how (or if) they kept their status over time. I mean, the data should be there scattered around somewhere (if it really starts to be collected according to this definition). Also, it would be interesting to see if this definition gets translated into "inspection guidelines" for the field, ideally addressing some concerns that Mughal (rail tracks) and Joe (externalization) raised.

Jan Knappe

Doctoral Researcher on environmental performance assessment and modeling of on-site wastewater treatment systems
Trinity College Dublin & University of Limerick
Email: jan.knappe(at), Twitter: @JanKnappe

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  • muench
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Re: Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free

Dear Jan,

Good questions. I hope someone with knowledge in India will still answer you!

Dear all,

It's good that the Indian government has decided what they think will be a workable definition of open defecation free (ODF) for them. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

While broswing through the recent CLTS publication by IDS (the one that Petra posted here called "Sustainability and CLTS: taking stock"), I realised that ODF may be defined more or less comprehensive in different countries.

I have transcribed the ODF definition from the IDS publication into the Wikipedia article on CLTS like this now:


Open defecation is the practice of defecating outside and not into a designated toilet.

"Open defecation free" (ODF) is a central term for community-led total sanitation (CLTS) programs and primarily means the eradication of open defecation in the entire community. However, it can also include the following additional criteria:[4]

  • Household latrines are hygienic, provide the safe containment of feces, offer privacy, have a lid on the defecation hole or a water seal and a roof to protect the user.
  • All household members and all members of the community use these toilets.
  • A handwashing facility is nearby with water, soap or ash, and is used regularly.

Even more stringent criteria which may be added to achieve "ODF status" for a community might include:[4]
  • Safe drinking water and storage
  • Food hygiene
  • Greywater disposal
  • Solid waste management
  • Provision of toilets at schools, markets and for passers-by

As the definition says "all community members", this should include children's feces, although it might be good to explicitly state this as they might otherwise be forgotten. See also here a post about child feces:

I didn't realise that some organisations take the definition of ODF to be so far-reaching as to include even greywater disposal and solid waste management. I would probably prefer a different term for that, I guess it's about a "sanitary, healthy environment".

Anyhow, does anyone have any experiences with different ODF definitions and perhaps how changing ODF definitions have changed the number of ODF villages achieved in a region?


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  • pkjha
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Re: Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free

Dear All

Safe confinement of Faeces is the basic criterion of a hygienic toilet. The definition of ODF by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India has just defined the “Safe confinement”.
The book “Excreta Disposal for Rural Areas and Small Communities” by E.G. Wagner & J.N. Lanoix, published by WHO in 1958, mentions seven criteria for a sanitary toilets. Points for the definition of ODF by the Ministry are already mentioned in the above book.
There have been a lot of discussions about Sanitation Ladder- from open defecation to safe sanitation. By this definition of ODF, Government of India is trying to achieve higher level of Sanitation Ladder. However, it is up to the community to follow this definition. It does not appear so easy.
In dense populated urban areas, both sides of railway tracks are perhaps the only space available for open defecation. Such lands are Government owned lands and therefore, there is no restriction in using for defecation. There may be parks/ gardens/ road sides in urban areas but people can’t use such areas for defecation.
Sikkim State was declared ODF by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation way back perhaps in 2011. However, after the Census 2011 by the Government, it was revealed that Rural Sanitation coverage was only 86-87%. Such difference was mainly due to the fact that the target (No. of households) was from the earlier data. Target of households was as per the last Census (2001). In fact, the IMS data of the Ministry showed that no. of households having toilets were more than the total households. Such problems were with all States. That could be one of the reasons for huge gap of sanitation coverage between IMS data ( 2011) of Government of India and the Census data (2011). Such problems have been resolved now after the Census 2011.



Note by moderator (EvM) on 11 Aug.: A further discussion on this topic took place here (for India):

and also here (not India specific):

Pawan Jha
Foundation for Environment and Sanitation
Mahavir Enclave
New Delhi 110045, India
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  • vishakhagoyal
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Re: Definition of ODF – Open Defecation Free (Indian government publication)

yes you are true that Railways are the biggest sites for open defecation,but government of India is working in this direction as well.the project for bio toilets have already implemented in Rajdhani trains gradually it will move to all trains. moreover if there is positive behaviour change among household this problem get solved by itself only.If you are following some better technique in case of Railways do tell me may be it become new avenue of research in India.
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