Three months ago, the Dhadgaon Nagar Panchayat had approached Khemsing Pavara (33) to construct a toilet on his barren plot. Pavara was hesitant, as he was yet to construct a house on the plot. But the panchayat assured him Rs 17,000 for a toilet, and he gave in. Within a week of constructing the six-feet by six-feet toilet, with a door purchased for Rs 2,000, the brand new toilet seat and the iron door were stolen. The toilet has since been lying defunct. The family of four now walks 500 metres, as they have done for years, to an open ground to defecate.
Last week, when state Minister for Water Supply and Sanitation Babanrao Lonkar had felicitated Nandurbar district for being open defecation free (ODF), Pavara was listed as one of the beneficiaries of government aid. “Even my neighbour defecate in the open. Their toilet has no septic tank,” he told The Indian Express. Several villagers complain of poor quality of toilet construction, forcing them to keep the toilets locked, he added. On Wednesday, the state government had declared that rural areas have attained ODF status with the construction of 60.41 lakh toilets — worth Rs 4,079 crore — over the last three-and-a-half years. “The thought of 55 per cent households living in rural areas with no access to toilets was very disturbing,” Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said while maintaining that all resources and manpower were pooled to build the toilets.
As per government guidelines, ODF is defined as “no visible feaces in environment” and “safe technology for disposal of faeces”. Under Swachh Bharat Mission, the Maharashtra government had set a target to gain ODF status for rural areas by 2018. Government figures of 2017-18 stated that 22.5 lakh households were covered across Maharashtra for toilet construction and there was 100 per cent coverage in
According to the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in Nandurbar, a tribal district, all households have toilets. District officials, however, claimed the actual coverage is 97 per cent. District records showed that 8,900 toilets are yet to be constructed in Nandurbar to cover the entire surveyed population. Pavara’s wife Meena said, “I don’t like going in the open. But we live in a rented room and the toilet here has no seat. There is just a hole in ground.”
Their two children, Roshni (4) and Rohan (2), do not usually wash their hands upon returning from the open air toilet. Nandurbar has the highest incidence of malnourishment in the state. A combined report of the World Health Organisation, Unicef and USAID in 65 countries, published in 2015, had found a direct co-relation between stunting among children and open defecation.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by the government, 50,25,369 (45 per cent) households in Maharashtra had access to toilets. In Nandurbar, 1.7 lakh households, both below and above the poverty line, were identified as having no toilets. Locals in Nandurbar claimed that officials have been in a hurry to declare the district ODF. In 2017-18, 81,770 households were covered for construction of toilets in Nandurbar, more than twice the number in the previous year. In 2016-17, 34,979 and in 2015-16, 26,131 households were provided with toilets, district records stated.
“Each beneficiary is paid Rs 12,000 per toilet with two soak pits,” said Nandurbar Zilla Parishad’s Deputy CEO (Water Supply and Sanitation) Sarika Bari. “In areas near the Narmada river, where transportation is difficult, people carried construction material manually on their shoulders.” However, in Chimalkhedi village, nestled in the hills near the Narmada, tribal Noorji Vasawe said only 25 toilets have been constructed for 150 families. “We have been demanding a toilet ever since the Swachh Bharat Mission started. But as no district officials come here, nobody knows that we have no toilets,” he added.
Vasawe and a few villagers have written to their block development officer for assistance in toilet construction. “There is no road leading to our village. Construction material will have to be carried by boat. Villagers can’t do it by themselves,” he said. In Sonkhurda village of Nandurbar, Saising Patle has had a toilet for three months but does not use it. “There is no water. The construction is poor… there is no outlet. This toilet will not stand even for a year,” Patle said. There are six members in his family, who all believe that toilet only occupies precious space. “There are 200 toilets constructed in our village, all of poor quality,” Patle said.
In Nandurbar, which has the highest mortality rate due to malnutrition in the state, in December 2017 alone, among the 1.2 lakh children aged below six who were surveyed, 35,825 were found malnourished. Stunting, in which children’s height does not grow according to age, was also observed extensively. “Stunting, gastrointestinal infections and diarrhoea are inter-related. When a child gets infective diarrhoea repeatedly, it means his hygiene, sanitation and water supply are not good. Stunting is a form of chronic malnutrition, and open defecation has direct impact on it,” said health expert Dr Mridula Phadke.