Village council candidates in India should be allowed to stand for election only if they have a toilet at home, the rural development minister says.
In a letter to all chief ministers, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said the toilet rule should be set out in law.
He said too many elected members “do not have toilet facilities in their own houses and defecate in the open”.
Mr Singh said this activity was the main cause of the high incidence of diarrhoea in rural areas.
Mr Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India’s rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day.
“This finds its way into the water sources,” Mr Singh said.
About 70% of India’s billion-plus population live in its more than 550,000 rural villages.
“It is unfortunate that a large number of elected village council members and rural government officers do not have toilet facilities in their own houses and defecate in the open,” Mr Singh’s letter said.
The minister said they needed to change their behaviour and adopt better sanitation and hygiene practices.
“It is essential to obtain their commitment to the sanitation agenda in view of the influence they exercise in the rural areas,” the letter said.
Some states have already made amendments in the Panchayati Raj Act, which deals with the election of village councils, to ensure that elected members have toilet facilities in their households.
The rural development minister suggested all chief ministers make similar provisions.
“Only then can we eradicate the practice of open defecation by 2010,” he says.
The central government has already launched a Total Sanitation Campaign in which awareness is being created regarding the ill-effects of open defecation.
“Sanitation promotion requires social mobilisation on a large scale and cannot be achieved by a few individuals but by collective involvement of all sections of society,” the letter says.