Bhubaneswar: At a time when a majority of the Indian states have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) after ensuring 100 percent toilet coverage, few states like Odisha and Goa are still struggling with meagre toilet coverage due to myriad reasons.
The latest government data (till 4 January, 2019) claims that Odisha is the second worst performing state in India after Goa under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) with only 78 percent toilet coverage while most other states have crossed 99 percent coverage. Much of the poor progress of the state in terms of toilet coverage could be attributed to the worst sanitation coverage it had at 11.72 percent before the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on 2 October, 2014.
However, there are several other ground level bottlenecks that are preventing the state from achieving 100 percent sanitation (toilet) coverage. A visit by this correspondent to some of the worst performing (in terms of toilet coverage) villages and gram panchayats in remote areas of Odisha revealed startling facts on why these have failed to match up with the sanitary progress across other parts of the country.
Advance fund a booster?
Ketamani Swain, a 68-year-old woman from the Bantaligram village under the Gop Block of Puri district, does not have a toilet of her own and goes to fields to relieve herself. This village panchayat has only 18 percent toilet coverage. Several facts in the reel life of Akshay Kumar-starrer Toilet seem to be true for this village.
She said: “Most of the ladies in our village go to the fields in the early hours of morning and late evening. Be it rainy days, winter or summer, we are used to defecating in the open. Women and elderly are worst hit due to open defecation but feel helpless due to lack of money.”
Swain claims lack of funds is the prime reason why poor families are discouraged to construct toilets, a view echoed by others too.
Ranjan Kumar Das, another villager who runs a small store in Bantaligram, says, “Most of the households here are poor and live in kuccha houses. If they don’t have proper houses how can they think about investing in toilet construction? The government should consider paying the full toilet construction incentive in advance to help us.”
Statistics claim that the Bantaligram panchayat, which hosts 1,293 households, has only 234 toilets constructed, while 1,059 toilets are yet to be constructed. Other villages cite different problems that have hindered toilet construction. One such claim of villagers in other laggard districts is that a “political tussle” between the state and Centre has been an obstacle in toilet construction.
‘Favouritism hurting development’
Barely 65 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, Badapokharia village panchayat in Tangi Block of Khurda district has only 17.72 percent sanitation coverage, with 641 households out of the total 779 yet to construct toilets. Most villagers told this correspondent that it was due to the political tussle between the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the BJP that development has shunned this village.
Anant Balwantrai, a sexagenarian from Badapokharia, says the reluctance of the local BJD member in aiding the village has deprived it of development. “The gram sarpanch is from the BJD while our village supports the BJP. So, we are deprived of the benefits of government schemes. We know that the government is ready to give Rs 12,000 for toilet construction but the benefits are failing to reach out to us,” he says. This view is shared by many others in the village.
While kuchha roads run through most of Badapokharia, villagers point towards a stretch running around their big pond and claim they are getting it constructed by pooling in their own funds, as the local panchayat office has allegedly shunned them from availing benefits of government schemes. Some allege that those close to the representatives of political parties avail benefits of government schemes such as Indira Awas Yojana more than once through manipulation and claim this could easily be verified if local administration conducts a ground visit.
The panchayat officials, however, narrate a different tale. Amarendra Mohapatra, a panchayat official from Badapokharia, says the Rs 12,000 allotted for constructing a toilet is not enough. “The terrain here is rocky in nature. People need to spend more than Rs 25,000 and thus many are refraining from toilet construction. If the government can consider enhancing the incentive, the toilet construction could get an impetus. Around 80 percent people are facing a problem due to this,” says Mohapatra. The views were also ratified by the village sarpanch Sagar Baliarsingh.
However, another village panchayat member speaking on the condition of anonymity blames the political tussle for poor sanitary development and says residents of the “BJP-preferring” Badapokharia village do not take part in panchayat planning meetings.
No volunteers on the ground as norms demand
Nevertheless, traces of corruption have been reported from other laggard regions in Odisha. Dhaulimuhan, a village panchayat in Khurda district is located juxtaposed to the Dhaulimuhan railway station. Official figures reveal the village has only 11.11 percent toilet coverage as out of the 639 total households, 568 households are yet without toilets. Villagers hint at government apathy and corruption as reasons claiming that they were asked for money to put their names in the list of beneficiaries.
Prasanna Mishra is a resident of the village who does not own a toilet. “Many other villages are flourishing but not ours. Three months back some government officials came, inquired with the villagers, wrote down the name of the eligible persons and took Rs 20 from each of them. But after taking the money they were never seen,” he says.
The norms drafted by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the nodal ministry handling the mission, warrant the states to ensure ground level foot soldiers in each village and panchayat level for community mobilisation and promoting behavioural changes while encouraging residents to construct toilets. But, no such workers on the ground were seen across any of the laggard villages of Odisha visited for this story.
Pratap Sarangi, a resident of Dhaulimuhan who is forced to relieve himself in the open, says, “No one comes to take stock of the situation here neither we see any volunteers working here. We have never heard of swachhagrahis or seen them.”
Peculiar problems have been reported from other districts where toilet construction has been dithered. In Bandhapada village panchayat of Kendrapara district, many villagers cite lack of land owned by the poor household as a key reason.
Manoj Kumar Rout, a youth from the village, says, “Some are very poor while some do not have space for toilets of their own. There have been no attempts from the government to reach the village.” He says only volunteers involved with some active NGOs have persuaded people to construct toilets.
Many villagers also claim the local offices have made them run from pillar to post for availing incentives. Kalpatru Rout, a veteran from Bandhapada, says, “There have been cases where even after two years of application, they are yet to get Central assistance for toilet construction. Such acts discourage poor people to construct toilets.”
Santosh Rout, another villager from Bandhapada, explains the lack of land in his village. He says that many houses in this village are located between the panchayat main road and the village road on either side and all the available land was used in building the houses in past, leaving no extra land to construct a toilet. Rout observes that if the government considers constructing community toilets for this village, the sanitation movement could gain some impetus here.
Kumuda Satpathy, a consultant for the Mission in Deogarh district, which was the first district from the state to be declared as ODF, says the lagging village panchayats could learn from other successful models. He believes innovative ideas and the work of local ground workers/volunteers can bring changes on the ground. “In the Deogarh district there were several ground level workers/volunteers who chipped in to stop the menace of open defecation. Strict vigilance, proactive district administration ensured doing away with the menace. Community mobilisation and bringing behavioural change through local volunteers is a very important aspect,” Satpathy says.
Most villagers in the worst-hit areas of Odisha claim the local administration officials hardly take stock of the overall situation, swacchagrahis (on-ground volunteers) exist only on paper and gram panchayats are paid for community mobilisation and engaging local volunteers, but all that only exists on paper, making the entire sanitation movement a futile attempt on ground. Payment of the entire amount in advance by the government is also a recurring request from many poor households across the state.
The author is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.
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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 12:47 PM