Swachh Bharat Mission: Haryana’s race for ODF tag pushed people in debt traps

Villagers were forced to construct toilets, but were not given subsidy promised under SBM

By Shagun
Published: Monday 16 September 2019
Haryana got the ODF tag in June 2017. Photo: Ignas Kukenys

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), which aims to make India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, has now left many people in Haryana reeling under debt.

Under the programme, people can avail reimbursement (Rs 12,000) for constructing toilets in their homes. 

Haryana got the ODF tag in June 2017. However, in the race to get it, the state officials used coercive measures like chasing people with sticks or filing an FIR, to stop people in villages from defecting in the open. This is despite them having no means to construct a toilet.

This forced people to take loans and construct toilets but they were not reimbursed the Rs 12,000, creating huge debts, according to villagers in Haryana.

Bimla Surjwan, 56, and her husband, residents of Jind district’s Nidana village in the state, constructed a toilet and a bathing space two months ago. They did this after being stopped to go into the fields for defecating and could not find any empty space nearby.

However, they did not get the subsidy under SBM and were forced to take a huge sum as loan.

Bimla, who works as a labourer with her husband in the same village, took Rs 50,000 from Jat lenders to construct the toilet. The structure is spacious, functional, and well made but Bimla does not know how and when she will be able to repay the debt.

“My home is on panchayat land. The panchayat people came twice and threatened to destroy this place. After we got the toilet made, the land was transferred in our name. We had no choice but to construct it,” she said.

When asked why she didn’t avail the government subsidy of Rs 12,000 for toilet construction, Bimla said she had asked the sarpanch about it, but got no information after that.

Twenty-seven-year-old Pooja, from the same village narrated a similar ordeal. Her family was chased with sticks several times for defecating in the open and all empty spaces were kept out of bounds for them.

“All empty spaces were getting occupied. Plus the vigilantes started patrolling and sometimes used to throw balls made of sand or waste,” she said.

Her family could not get for a big loan amount so they made a kuccha toilet with whatever money they had. “We feel suffocated to use it but there is no other option,” she said.

Khemchand, 55, was forced to take a loan of Rs 25,000 for constructing a latrine last year, after police threatened him with an FIR if he continued to defecate in the open. He makes hoof parts for buffaloes and earns a meagre Rs 100 per buffalo.

“Even ASHA workers came outside our homes and sat on a dharna and said no one from here will go to the fields.  But we got no money. I heard there is a subsidy and filled a form but money hasn’t come yet. I can repay some of the loan amount only after I get that money,” he said.

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