Despite the state government declaring all villages in Haryana as 'open defecation free' (ODF), households in several villages, including those adopted by or native to influential ministers, continue to lack accessibility to toilets.
Last year, the Manohar Lal Khattar government had declared over 6,908 villages in rural Haryana as being open defecation free and the Centre gave the state a 100 percent ODF status while responding to a question in Lok Sabha during this year’s Budget Session. But on examining the claim, Firstpost found that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a distant dream in Haryana.
In Chief Minister Khattar's birthplace Nindana in Rohtak, which was declared ODF in January last year, several households are yet to install toilets. One of four panchayats in the village adopted by Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu was even awarded a cash prize for achieving a 100 percent ODF status. But villagers punctured this claim when they reached the district collectorate last year to expose how the village sarpanch colluded with officials to get the reward. An inquiry was promised at that time.
A year later, a government survey showed that 30 households without toilets in Mamanpur panchayat in Nindana are yet to install toilets. "They built common toilets in the village and gave us the ODF tag. But the common toilets are not even functional," said Nanhi Devi, whose family continues to defecate in the open.
Even in Baniyani village in Rohtak, where Chief Minister Khattar lived during the early days of his life, hundreds of houses do not have toilets. Village sarpanch Bansi Vig, a BJP worker, had claimed the village was ODF. But a panchayat member said that around 10-15 houses in each of the 17 wards of the village are yet to install toilets.
"Visit here in the morning and you will see the entire street full of people squatting in the open. Even those who have toilets at their houses don't want to use them out of habit," said Satyawan, a panchayat member.
Laxmi Devi, 46, a resident of Baniyani, under Kalanaur panchayat, demanded the government give funds under the Swachh Bharat Mission, before construction of toilets. "We don't have sufficient money to build a toilet. If the government agrees to pay us beforehand, we may consider the option," she said. "Till then, my 17-year-old daughter and I will have to defecate in the open," she added.
A few kilometers away in Anwal village, adopted by recently-retired Rajya Sabha MP Shadi Lal Batra, sarpanch Anil Kumar told Firstpost that over 150 houses still lack toilets. But he feels that more than the government, peoples' mindset is to blame for the lack of toilets in villages. "We have used every way possible, but when people don't want to adopt a new habit, how much can we push it?" he said.
Last year, Mewat deputy commissioner Maniram Sharma was heavily criticised after police arrested some men for defecating in the open. Sharma had even posted pictures of the 'defaulters' on his Facebook account, which he deleted following public outrage. Sharma had said, "Jo sarkar ka hukm hai..use saam daam bhed aur dand se laagu karwana mera kartavya hai (My duty is to enforce government orders by any means possible)."
But despite this, villagers blame a lackadaisical attitude on part of authorities concerned to set up and maintain toilets. A villager pointed out that the government school for girls in Anwal was the first in Haryana to get an eco-friendly modern toilet facility, built by IIT engineers at a cost of Rs 11 lakh. The toilet had automatic flushing, automatic cleaning, sanitary napkins, was equipped with solar panel and an underground waste management system. But, a year later the toilet remains dysfunctional due to a lack of maintenance.
The school's principal Sunita Devi said, "There is only one worker available at the school. She has passed her retirement age and remains unwell most of the time. That's why the toilet could not be maintained."
However, some village officials feel that villagers are using the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as a medium to cheat the government. At Mohana village in Sonepat, adopted by state urban local bodies minister Kavita Jain, the sarpanch said villagers cheat officials by showing their neighbors' houses instead of theirs to avail funds. "There will be over 200 houses in this village without toilets; but all of them would have received funds under Swacch Bharat," he said.
Kalanaur panchayat officer Joginder Rathi also said that all villagers living in villages under Kalanaur, have availed funds under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan. "These people lie to media persons and show houses where they keep animals in hope of getting more funds. We have covered all the houses. A team from ADC office visits the village and checks the houses for toilets before transferring the money," he said.
The Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is addressing concerns over hygiene and sanitation in some parts of Haryana. However, due to the apathy of officials, who are only concerned about achieving targets and neglect educating people on the issue, a lot remains to be done before the state can be declared as being 100 percent ODF.
The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.
Updated Date: Apr 25, 2018 19:33 PM