In ‘open defecation-free’ district, they find new toilets unusable except for storing crops

Villagers say not one toilet has a tank, and all have makeshift pits.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | Dhamtari | Published: December 22, 2016 2:04 am
 PM Narendra Modi , Dhamtari, Mungeli, S R Tejaswi, Department of Public Relations, Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, indian express news For Yuvraj Sahu, this pond at Amdi Nagar, Dhamtari, serves as a toilet. Dipankar Ghose

Every morning, S R Tejaswi, like his colleagues and students, holds his breath as he enters Government Higher Secondary School in Amdi of Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district. The playground of the school, of which Tejaswi is principal, acts as the toilet for residents around. By the time school begins, the grass is pockmarked by small brown mounds of human faeces.

Early last month, PM Narendra Modi felicitated officials of Dhamtari and Mungeli, declaring them Chhattisgarh’s first open defecation-free districts. By the central government’s definition, “ODF is the termination of faecal-oral transmission” characterised by no visible faeces, and households and public institutions using safe technology for disposal of waste. A government checklist says that to be declared ODF, it requires not only toilets with access to water but also that each individual actually uses the facilities.

In Dhamtari, The Indian Express found all of this far from reality. Mohdi village, Magarlod blockManu Bai, 60, stepped out of her one-room hut at 7 pm, a blue plastic bottle in one hand, a wooden stick in the other. “Every night, I take this stick, fill water and go to the fields,” she said, tapping the stick on the concrete road. “There has never been a toilet in my house, no official has ever come here.”

The village has over 300 homes, and a rough count indicated that some 100 of these have no toilet. In those that do, the toilets are in poor shape — no water connections, the toilets feet away from sewage pipes.

At Yadavpara, a group of women began to walk out to the fields. Said one, “It is dangerous and embarrassing, so we go together.” Boirgaon, Nagri.

Nestled in the forests of the Sitanadi sanctuary, 10 km from the nearest road, Boirgaon is a tribal settlement of 28 homes, housing 107 people. They first heard of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan barely a month ago. Since then, toilets were built in a hurry, local newspapers reported these were unworkable, and visits by officials followed. But even today, not one villager uses any of these toilets.

At Santlal’s home, the toilet was built some 20 days before The Indian Express met him. The toilet bowl is filled with drying cement. “A bigger problem is outside. Pipes have been buried to a tank less than three feet away,” Santlal said. The pit is a hole raised two feet, the loose bricks already coming apart. “If we use the toilet for one month, it will fill up. There is no tank, no water. How does one use this?”

Villagers say not one toilet has a tank, and all have makeshift pits. Which is why Pappu Sinha has found another use: in his two toilets, he puts urda, a local crop, out to dry. Amdi Nagar, Dhamtari

Yuvraj Sahu, 48, works for daily wages on farms. Last year, nagar panchayat officials visited his one-room house and reportedly told him that it was impossible to build an independent toilet in the narrow lane. Then a few months ago, he said, some “officials” asked him to pose in front of a toilet built several houses away. When the photo appeared in the papers, Sahu went to the authorities and found that records already showed that funds of Rs 12,000 had been spent on his toilet. “There are many other cases like mine, but who will listen?” said Sahu, who uses a smelly, green pond for defecation.

At the school, principal Tejaswi pointed to the excreta-filled playground. “The children complain of the smell, and imagine the flies that come into their food. By the time school starts, residents of ward number 3 have all come and gone,” Tejaswi said. Said Manoj Sahu, Nagar Congress president, “Of Amdi’s 7,000 residents, at least 2,000 still defecate in the open. Even where there are toilets, they lead to open drains and cannot be used. This is far from being ODF.”

C R Prasanna, district collector, said in reply to questions that only rural areas in Dhamtari have been declared ODF, not the four nagar panchayats. “These too will be made ODF by January. So far, only rural areas have been declared ODF,” he said.

A press release issued on November 1 by the state Department of Public Relations, however, had said, “The Prime Minister congratulated the people for getting rid of the social problem of open defecation in two districts — Dhamtari and Mungeli, and fifteen blocks of various other districts, under the most important Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.” Prasanna said that as far as villages were concerned, some areas like Nagri block were “made ODF” in the last phase, and it “would take time to change mindsets”.

“Measures are being taken to make them use the toilets. In some other cases you have mentioned, some houses are on encroached land. The government cannot spend money on construction on encroached land. There are several government schemes, and land can be allotted under them, and surveys are being conducted,” Prasanna said.

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