Gandhinagar district is facing a tough challenge in achieving the 100 per cent Open Defecation Free (ODF) status because of squatters on government land on which the government cannot build toilets. This encroachments is spread over 100 of 302 villages where over 4,000-5,000 homes have been built. The district which covers Gujarat’s capital city of Gandhinagar, and has a 43 per cent urban and 57 per cent rural population, has been able to declare less than 20 per cent villages in last two years as ODF and the administration is under pressure to achieve the target before the deadline of October 2, 2019. Of the 123 villages the Gandhinagar administration declared as ODF and subsequently applied for the approval to the Centre, only 60 were certified as ODF.
A press statement by the Gujarat government ahead of the ‘Women Champions Convention’ called ‘Swachh Shakti 2017’ celebrations scheduled on March 8 said that the state had already “achieved 92 coverage claiming to be one of the fastest progress in the country by a state. Gujarat was merely at 60 per cent sanitation coverage in March 2015 and in less than two years it is improved to 92.7 per cent.”
Authorities claimed that in the 2012 baseline survey nearly 32-33 lakh toilets were to be constructed. Since October 2014, target of 26 lakh have already been achieved.
Under the event, nearly 4,000 women sarpanches visiting Gujarat from across the country on March 7 will be taken on ‘thematic study tours’, including Swachh Bharat and ODF to villages in nine districts.
“Though we have achieved nearly 90 per cent of the target (for the number of toilets to be built), there are a few issues of encroachments but these would be taken care of,” said Jayanti S Ravi, commissioner of rural development and principal secretary, panchayat, rural housing and rural development.
Out of a total 302 villages in the district with a total population of nearly 14 lakh, the issue of illegally built houses has been found in over 30 per cent villages.
“These semi pucca houses are illegal construction over government land. Certainly, the government cannot build toilets on this land so we are exploring the options that can ensure open defecation-free while not legalising these constructions,” said district development officer, Gandhinagar, Devang Desai.
The state government for the time being has now planned to provide community and cluster toilets for these illegal constructions. For instance, one toilet in five to ten illegal houses which will be maintained by the community itself. Which will be built on a common open plot near the illegal basti.
Also, 5,000 homeless families have been surveyed in Gandhinagar district. Out of these about 790 houses will be built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, this year.
During the celebration of ‘Lok Swachhata Jumbesh Saptah’ last year, teams of government officials in what was called “Nigrani and Gandhigiri” would hound out people defecating in the open and hand them a rose, to politely convince them to give it up. However, during this drive too, the teams carefully avoided the villages with illegal construction.