I was too gentle the first time. I thought the UN University was taking a cheap short cut to get publicity in the tough Indian media market. But if people are talking about this comparison of toilets and mobiles one year later, it appears that the cheap shortcut has been effective, more effective than I thought.
Mobiles are personal devices; toilets are generally a household amenity. Except in Mukesh Ambani’s house, the number of toilets is generally lower than the number of people living in the house. There is no way one can directly compare the number of mobile SIMs, which is what TRAI reports, with the numbers of toilets in a meaningful way.
If one wants a legitimate mobile/phone to toilet comparison, what one has to do is work with data from the demand side: census or representative-sample household surveys. I have been looking at the Sri Lanka Household Income and Expenditure Survey for 2009-10. It has data on whether households have mobiles, fixed phones or both, along with data on toilets for exclusive use of the household. Here is analysis.
It is only in the richest province, the Western Province that contributes around half the GDP, that the number of households with phones comes even close to the number of households with toilets for exclusive use. You could say this is Sri Lanka, and therefore the toilet numbers are high. My point is not to quibble about that. The issue is the error of comparing what cannot be compared. What can be compared are toilets in households and phones/mobiles in households. If that is done, India will not look too bad. But on the other hand, the UN University will not get media coverage.