Money Down The Drain

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Photo: CCL/Ignas Kukenys
Photo: CCL/Ignas Kukenys

As the rape tourism winds down at Katra Sadatganj village in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district — where two teenaged cousins were gangraped and hung from a tree on 27 May — the focus should shift to the lack of toilets and sanitation facilities.

The most basic question as to why the girls did not have a toilet that they could call their own failed to figure in the debates that followed the gangrape and murders. Leaders from all political parties made a beeline to the village and expressed their sympathy to the victims’ families and assured them justice. But, nobody uttered a word about the lack of toilets in rural households, which force women to go into the fields for attending nature’s call, thus making them vulnerable to crime.

In rural Uttar Pradesh, the construction of toilets remains a complicated task. Apart from rampant corruption, the involvement of myriad agencies of both the state and Central governments in financing and constructing the toilets under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) has reduced the scheme to a mockery. As a result, lakhs of people still have no toilets.

Launched as part of the 12th Five- Year Plan in 2012, the NBA replaced the existing Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC). The NBA aims to cover more than 6 lakh villages by constructing toilets for all. The aim was to end open defecation by 2022.

Under the NBA, each beneficiary will get 10,000 for building a toilet. Of this, the Union rural development ministry will provide 3,200, while Rs 4,500 will be drawn from MGNREGA funds and the state government will give Rs 1,400. The beneficiary will have to bear the rest of the cost — Rs 900.

“Building toilets seems to be a far more complex task than developing an intercontinental ballistic missile or putting Chandrayan in space,” says a senior official at the Panchayati Raj department.

In each district, a sanitation committee headed by the district magistrate selects the beneficiaries. In fact, the entire process is done by the District Panchayati Raj Officer (DPRO), who sends the list of beneficiaries to the Block Development Officer (BDO) for further action. The BDO prepares the estimate and generates an ID, which s/he sends to Lucknow for approval. The ID includes the beneficiary’s MGNREGA job card details as well as details of the vouchers for building material like cement, steel rods and other sanitary material. The office of the Additional Rural Development Commissioner, which oversees MGNREGA funds, takes its own sweet time in approving the proposals received from 822 BDOs in 75 districts.

“The rural development department takes a minimum of six months — in some cases, more than a year — for stamping its approval on the estimates sent by the BDO,” says the DPRO of a district in eastern Uttar Pradesh on condition of anonymity. “Moreover, it is ridiculous to suggest that a good functional toilet can be constructed for a mere Rs 10,000. This has resulted in a large number of toilets in rural households lying defunct.”

Saurabh Babu, director of the Panchayati Raj department in Uttar Pradesh, adds: “Constructing toilets in rural areas with MGNREGA funds is a big constraint in the implementation of the NBA. The state government has brought this to the notice of the Centre several times. The Union rural development ministry is willing to delink the funding for the NBA from MGNREGA, but the Planning Commission has vetoed the proposal. The NBA project should be made simple and least cumbersome; there should be one funding agency, such as the Indira Awas Yojana, where the money is given to the beneficiary in a few instalments.”

The poor implementation of the rural sanitation project due to cumbersome procedures and rampant corruption came to light when the 2011 Census figures were released. Under the Centrally-sponsored TSC project, the aim was to build 1.71 crore toilets in Uttar Pradesh. However, the Census data showed that only 55 lakh toilets were built, which means 1.16 crore toilets were missing, with Rs 2,900 crore being siphoned off.

The TSC project was launched in 1999 to end open defecation in India by 2017. The scheme was implemented in Uttar Pradesh from 2002. Under the project, various sections of society were given a subsidy to get permanent toilets built in their houses.

According to the TSC data, only 17.5 percent rural households in Uttar Pradesh had no toilets. But the Census figures show that more than 78 percent households don’t have latrines within their premises. If the TSC data is anything to go by, all households in the districts of Lakhimpur Kheri and Farrukhabad have sanitation facilities. But the Census figures show that 81.7 percent and 76.10 percent households in the two districts, respectively, have no such facilities.

However, Panchayati Raj Minister Balram Yadav denies any irregularity. “The Census report on toilets constructed under the TSC is rubbish,” he says. “No household survey in rural areas was conducted by the Census. I had ordered an inquiry into the Census report soon after I took over as minister in March 2012 and the charges were found to be false.”

In 2010, Badaun district, under which Katra Sadatganj village falls, won the best performance award under the TSC. But look at the numbers. Katra Sadatganj has 3,500 households. Of these, only 173 have toilets. And in reality, 73 of them exist only on paper.

Official statistics show that only 1.17 crore of the 3.29 crore households in Uttar Pradesh have toilets, forcing 14.82 percent people in urban areas and 77.13 percent in rural areas to defecate in the open. But Panchayati Raj department director Babu claims that “as per the latest survey, Uttar Pradesh needs as many as 2.4 crore toilets in rural areas and against this, close to 1.7 crore have been constructed until the last financial year (2013-14)”.

Uttar Pradesh Police says that a majority of rapes in rural areas occurred when the victims had gone out in the open to answer nature’s call. The practice of open defecation not only exposes women to the dangers of sexual assault, but also to snake and insect bites and animal attacks. “According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Uttar Pradesh is ranked 22nd in the country,” says IG (STF) Ashish Gupta. “Here, 10 rapes are reported every day on an average, of which 60-65 percent took place when the women went to attend nature’s call in the open.”

Three weeks after the Badaun gangrape and murders and other incidents of sexual assault against women, there has been no initiative from the Uttar Pradesh government for expediting the construction of toilets in rural households. Only Sulabh International has come forward and announced that it would help build a toilet in every house in Katra Sadatganj. Sulabh founder Bindeshwar Pathak said he would write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure the availability of a toilet in every house. “Any woman defecating in the open is vulnerable and the government must acknowledge the issue,” says Pathak.

In a bid to draw political mileage, the NDA government at the Centre has accused the SP regime in Uttar Pradesh of failing to utilise the funds meant for rural toilets released under the NBA.

“Of the total Rs 543 crore, Uttar Pradesh has an available balance of Rs 293 crore and Badaun district has Rs 1.04 crore,” says a statement by the Union rural development ministry. “The adjoining districts also have sufficient funds available. Uttar Pradesh should take urgent steps so as to ensure the availability of adequate sanitation facilities, especially for rural women.”

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