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In Rajasthan last month, local district administration arrested locals for defecating in the open and ordered discontinuation of electricity supply to households that have not built toilets
The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) officials across India have been reportedly intimidating people in the name of community awareness. Cases of arrests, denial of rations and National Rural Employment Scheme cards, and even lynching were reported. "The officials are definitely under pressure to achieve the target of open defecation status set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi", says Deepak Sanan, former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh, and advisor to the CLTS Foundation. The PM has set October 2019 as the deadline to free the nation from open defecation. Only two years is left to reach the deadline and the country has to build almost 5.3 crore toilets to have hundred per cent coverage of household toilets.
Only July 16, Down To Earth published an in-depth article documenting how local officials in districts across several states are “wielding whatever stick they can lay their hands on—from blowing whistles to denying welfare benefits—to make people abandon their age-old habit and embrace new ethos”. The government took note of these coercive ways. On July 25, the MDWS issued an advisory, asking all the states to refrain from “adopting inappropriate and gender insensitive approaches in the context of preventing open defecation”. The ministry also said that the objective of Swachh Bharat Mission “needs to be achieved through facilitation by local authorities by using appropriate messaging and positive behaviour change communication”.
Despite such an advisory being issued, cases of coercion are still surfacing, and Rajasthan is the latest errant. Bhilwara district came to limelight after the Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO), on August 18, issued an order to discontinue electricity supply to all households in Jahazpur tehsil that failed to build toilets within 15 days.
The SDO claimed that villagers were causing hindrance in achieving the ODF target under the SBM and this punitive action may lead to speedy construction of toilets in the region. Following an outrage over the order, Bhilwara district collector Muktanand Agarwal dismissed it and clarified that the administration does not promote any retaliatory action to meet ODF target.
On August 20, in a similar incident of coercion, six people from Gangithala and Piplund village (Jahazpur tehsil) were caught defecating in the open and were taken to police custody for disrupting peace under Section 151 of Criminal Procedure Code. However, they were released the next day after they promised to build toilets and use them. Dheeraj Gujjar, MLA from Jahazpur, stood firmly against the action of the SDO, says Gajendra Singh Rathore, CEO of Zila Parishad. Dinesh Chaudhary, district programme coordinator, admits that they have no clue about the advisory issued by the MDWS against coercive actions. However, he did not support the incident. He explains that SDO has the legal right to take actions against anyone disrupting peace in the area. Chaudhary adds that the sanitation is looked after by Panchayati Raj Department, hence, all the actions should be routed through the panchayat.
The SDO’s order and arrest in quick succession led to severe criticism in the region. The local administration, in their defence, said that such actions against villagers were taken because they resisted the ODF drive, refused to build toilets and continued to defecate in the open.
According to media reports, the district aims at declaring itself ODF by December 2017, but to achieve this target, the government needs to construct 1,400 toilets daily. Jahazpur is among one of blocks that has seen a slow progress. As on September 7, 2017, the Jahazpur block has toilet coverage of 63.11 per cent and Gangithala village has the lowest share of 24.6 per cent, according to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) data. Local officials say that despite reckless efforts to change people’s mindsets, they are least convinced with the idea of building and using toilets.
While delay in construction of toilets and release of funds are major issues, other problems like lack of interest and involvement of beneficiary and acute water crisis in the region cannot be brushed aside. No fund has been released to the district in the last two financial years under the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) component to motivate people and trigger behaviour change.
The district, according to Chaudhary, has spent around Rs 359,000 on workshop on community-led total sanitation. But the expenditure will be adjusted only this financial year. A notice has been issued to the state by the MDWS that it is compulsory to spent 50-80 per cent per year on IEC, which their state has failed. But now they have plans for training programmes and workshops.
Every year, the region faces serious water scarcity. When there is not enough drinking water available, how can the locals fulfil the demand of water for toilets? According to Chaudhary, there is no water shortage in the district after the implementation of Chambal-Bhilwara water supply project which is mainly a drinking water supply project.
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