Swachch Bharat ka Irada, Kya Bas Ek Vaada?

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With exactly a year to the Swachch Bharat Mission deadline, the clock is ticking. Perhaps a bit too hard and fast for rural Uttar Pradesh, where 1000 toilets are being constructed on a daily basis, according to official district-level records.

As Gandhi Jayanti 2018 clocks in, Khabar Lahariya investigates the numbers across districts of rural U.P.

Answering nature’s calls has never been this complicated, not since it got so heavily policy-laden. Question is, who is the policy meant to benefit?

While the fight against open defection has been a long-standing one in India, it has taken on new drive under the incumbent BJP government. In the fancy packaging of Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM), complete with celebrity endorsements and radio-friendly jingles, the primary aim is to construct toilets in every household so as to achieve an open defecation free (ODF) India within five years. Touted to be a pet project of Prime Minister Modi, this nationwide sanitation mission was intended to be a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of his 150th birthday in the year 2019. With exactly a year to the deadline, we decided to investigate where things stand in of Uttar Pradesh – one of India’s largest and most populous states where the implementation of the SBM has been no small feat by any measure.

The SBM website boasts of over one crore toilets having been built in UP till date – 1,70,46,060 to be exact – covering 99.38% of the state. What’s more, over 70% of the state has been declared ODF by the government. This mammoth achievement, to say the least, would have been an undisputed feather in the government’s cap had these incredible statistics in fact been translated into reality on the ground.

Let’s take a look at Lalitpur district, where government statistics claim that almost all the required number of toilets have been constructed and over 80% of the district has been declared ODF. Suresh of Lalitpur’s Rangoan village is well aware that his village is one of the newest additions to the illustrious list of ODF villages. Ironically though, he has not seen or heard of toilets being constructed in any of the households –the only prerequisite to being declared ODF.

The situation is no different in Varanasi, where the need for toilets, public and otherwise, is particularly pressing in light of the huge number of tourists it attracts all year round. Jairampur village’s Shivdevi is fed up of filling endless forms and hearing empty promises in return. For what seems like an eternity to her, she has been requesting for the construction of a toilet but her household is yet to see one. Things just do not add up when compared to the government statistic of 99.54% of the toilets allegedly having been constructed. Mahesh Yadav, whose wife is the pradhan of Shivdevi’s village, sheds some light on the issue. How are we expected to get toilets constructed when we are not given the requisite raw materials for it? Sometimes we lack sand, sometimes we are not given enough cement. Where do we get these materials from?”

Where toilets do exist, several of them are in a dilapidated state – leaving one constantly worrying about a brick falling on their head while they relieve themselves. Take Gudiya’s father’s toilet situated in Banda’s Sohana village for instance. Having no door, with the ceiling and the walls threatening to give way any minute, this ruin of a toilet adds to the proud 98.59% toilets constructed that have been constructed in the district so far.

Administrative apathy is a major factor to be blamed for this deplorable state of affairs. When we asked the Panchayat ADO of Tarun village of Faizabad district, he seemed bored stiff not only of our question but of the project altogether. On being pointedly asked about the villages where no holes have even been dug yet, he had no idea as to which villages these were. After verifying with our reporter that construction had not even commenced in these villages, he simply said it would start soon.

While officials conveniently pass the buck from to one another, the public continues to face extreme hardships on a daily basis. While some deal with the embarrassment of passers-by seeing them as they defecate in the open, others are constantly harassed by the police and often even beaten up for doing so.

With large amounts of the taxpayer’s money being dedicated to the SBM, all that seems to have been tangibly achieved are impressive statistics. Lots of graphs with ascending peaks.  

Residents of Mahoba – another district boasting of being over 90% ODF – describe the helpless Catch-22 situation the authorities have trapped them in.

Sarju Devi, Kalapura village resident, is livid, “When they are not getting toilets constructed in our houses, but continue to lecture on against open defecation, what are we to do? Are we to take a dump in the middle of our house? If the police catch us defecating in the open, they shout at us and even beat us. At least first do your bit in getting the construction done, then feel free to catch us if we go out.”

 

This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost.