India to track toilet use with tablets

Indian women hold latrines as they participate in the opening ceremony of the three-day International Toilet Festival in New Delhi on Nov 18, 2014. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is launching a nationwide online programme from next month to
Indian women hold latrines as they participate in the opening ceremony of the three-day International Toilet Festival in New Delhi on Nov 18, 2014. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is launching a nationwide online programme from next month to check whether people are using toilets as part of his cleanliness drive. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is launching a nationwide online programme to check whether people are using toilets as part of his cleanliness drive.

From next month, officials will head out with mobile phones, tablets and iPads to report on whether toilets are being used in rural India, with results uploaded onto a website in real time.

India's shortage of toilets costs the country more than US$50 billion (S$62.52 billion) a year, mostly through premature deaths and hygiene-related diseases, according to a World Bank study. India suffers a greater cost than other Asian countries from the poor collection of human excreta, the study found.

About 626 million Indians defecate in the open compared with 14 million in China, the World Health Organisation said in a 2012 report.

Since taking office in May, Modi has repeatedly lamented the poor state of sanitation and public cleanliness in India, vowing to solve the problems within the next five years.

The government has doubled spending on a toilet building programme and requested financial donations from some of the country's largest companies to help.

"Earlier, the monitoring was done only about the construction of toilets, but now the actual use of toilets will be ascertained," the government said in a statement on Wednesday.

In October, Modi annoyed government officials by ordering them to come to work to clean toilets on a national holiday.