Chief Minister Anandi Patel broke down while saying that it was her “personal agenda” of ridding Gujarat of malnutrition and ensuring toilet in every house of the state just as the state had “got rid of the Congress”.
“The way we have rid Gujarat of Congress, we shall have to banish evil of malnutrition and practice of defecating in open,” Patel told the gathering, majority of farmer men and women from rural areas, while referring to the rout of Congress in Lok Sabha elections early this year.
The CM was speaking at the launch of the 65th Van Mahotsav (forest festival) of the state government at Khodaldham, a religious place being developed by politically influential Leuva Patel community in Kagvad village, 65 kilometre south of Rajkot, for their deity Khodal ma.
During Van Mahotsav, the state government runs a month-long drive to plant trees to increase green cover in the state.
“It is extremely depressing that women in rural areas have to wait till nightfall to answer nature’s call. Even if they have urge to go to the toilet in the morning, they have to suppress it till it becomes dark. This makes them victims of many deadly diseases. Can’t we do anything about this?” Patel said.
“I confess this is my personal agenda. Of the 30,000 people who visited Gujarat Assembly during the just concluded session, 26,000 were women and mothers. When many of them came to meet me, I asked them if there was toilet in their houses.
“They said no, but expressed wish to build them. A group of members of an all-women panchayat pledged before me that they would build toilets in the remaining 100 households in their village and that 11 children extremely malnourished will be taken care of,” Patel said before her eyes welled up and sobbing faltered her voice.
After gathering herself, the CM explained that sarpanch and members of that gram panchayat knew that children categorised in red zone meant they were extremely malnourished.
Incidentally, since she replaced Narendra Modi to become first woman chief minister of Gujarat in May this year, Patel has been raising the twin issues at her every public appearance.
Gujarat government was flayed by Congress in the past for reported high level of malnourishment among children and women.
In June, the CM, who was a school teacher before joining politics, had said that the Gujarat could establish itself as a developed state only when each household had a toilet and not a single child or woman was malnourished.