At 6 pm, they are ready to go — crinkly plastic bottles filled with water in one hand, small shovels and spades in the other. In a few hours, the sun will go down and the group of men and women from Sirsa Sardah Sahrai village in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit district have to attend to nature’s call before it gets too dark. The spade is a new addition to their routine, a burden they have to carry to ensure the village earns the ODF (Open Defecation Free) tag.
With Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath fixing an ambitious target of October 2018 to make the entire state ODF, district-level officers such as those in Pilibhit have been battling time and insufficient funds in their race to build toilets. The district is still short of about 1.33 lakh toilets and officials tasked with meeting the deadline as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan have been asking people in villages such as this one to carry spades when they defecate in the open, dig some earth and cover-up.
Situated about 18 km from Pilibhit city, Sirsa Sardah Sahrai has about 102 houses and a population of about 500 people, but there are no more than 10 houses with toilets. “Ek team ayi thi kuch din pehle. Samjhaye ki agar toilet nahi banva sakte to khurpi ya favra saath leke jao aur tatti ko mitti se dhak do. Ghina to ayi rahi, magar jab sab piche pare gaye to leke jate hain ab (A team had come a few days ago. They told us that if we cannot build toilets, we should carry spades and cover it up with mud after we are done. It’s embarrassing but we do it now that everyone is after us, telling us to carry spades,” says Narayan Lal, 60.
Last year, Narayan, a marginal farmer, spent his life savings to rebuild his mud house, but ran out of money by the time the brick walls of the new house were ready. “I wanted to build a concrete roof, but had no money so had to put tin sheets. How would I have built a toilet?” His two sons live separately, but their homes don’t have toilets either. Narayan is among 90 per cent of people in the village who say they cannot afford to build toilets unless the government sanctions funds.
Village pradhan Sarajeet Singh, 38, says, “A few years ago, about four-five houses were built under the Indira Awaas Yojana… only they have toilets along with a few other houses which could afford them. All the others want help from the government. The government only gives Rs 12,000 to build toilets. Recently, the government sanctioned money for about 35 toilets, but that’s not enough,” says Singh, adding that most of the villagers work as farm hands and can’t afford toilets.
Singh says that when he asked the villagers to use spades, no one took him seriously until a team from the district administration camped in the village for over three days and spoke to villagers about why it was not hygienic to leave human waste in the open. Hemendra Pal, District Co-ordinator of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Pilibhit, says, “When we conducted a survey in 2012, we found that out of 3.35 lakh households in the district, only 1.54 lakh have toilets. Since then, 46,369 toilets have been built but still, about 1.33 lakh more toilets need to be built. That’s our target for the next one year. It’s it difficult to meet the target.”
Asked about the move to promote the use of spades among villagers, Pal says, “Our teams first conduct a survey in the village and identify the poorest households. So when the funds come, they are given priority while disbursing the money. But since all houses cannot be funded, our teams camp in villages and try to convince them to build toilets on their own, without waiting for the government money. And if that fails, we tell them to at least carry spades till they do not build toilets. At least that way, the waste won’t be left in the open.”
District Panchayat Officer Pramod Yadav says that on the direction of the Chief Development Officer of the district, 18 teams have been formed to “educate villages” and convince them to actively participate in making the district ODF by October 2018.
But not everyone’s convinced. Certainly not 70-year-old Rampa. Sitting on a khat outside her thatched roof house, she says, “Ab sattar saal mein humari umar nahi ki khurpi ya hasiya leke jayen, karen aur fhir dhaken. Humein dikhayi bhi kaam deta hai. Sarkar jab banvayegi tab dekha jayega (Now at 70, I can’t be expected to carry a spade, do my job and then cover up. I can’t even see too well. We’ll decide what to do when the government builds us toilets).”