Though Without Toilets, Chhattisgarh’s Maoist-Affected Areas Are Declared Open Defecation Free

The government has declared Chhattisgarh open defecation free even though many gram panchayats in the state remain “inaccessible”.

Swachh Bharat Mission data for January 2018 for Bijapur declares 84 of the 169 gram panchayats “inaccessible”, and the rest have been declared ODF. (Representative image) Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: In December 2017, the government declared Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur, Kondagaon and Dantewada – arguably the worst Maoist affected districts in the country – open defecation free (ODF). Documents accessed by the Indian Express however indicate that this claim may only be partially true as half the villages in two of these districts have remained completely inaccessible for the government and its functionaries.

Swachh Bharat Mission data for January 2018 for Bijapur has declared 84 of the 169 gram panchayats “inaccessible”, and the rest have been declared ODF. According to government data collected in October 2017, 49 out of 146 gram panchayats in Sukma district, 30 out of 83 in Dantewada and 15 out of 99 in Kondagaon remain “inaccessible” to the government.

The number of people defecating in the open in rural India had reduced to less than half of what it was in 2014, says the Economic Survey of India 2018, citing the reduction as a marker of success of the Centre’s Swachh Bharat Mission. Based on a survey conducted by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Economic Survey says that this number as fallen from 55 crore in October, 2014, to 25 crore in January, 2018, “at a much faster pace compared to the trend observed before 2014.”

“Eight states and two union territories, i.e. Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Daman & Diu and Chandigarh have been declared as ODF completely,” the survey says.

On February 8, the government informed the Lok Sabha that 11 states and union territories – including Chhattisgarh – till date have been declared ODF under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, minister of state in the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in a written reply said, “Till date, 11 states/UTs namely Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Gujarat, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Meghalaya had been declared ODF.”

On January 4, Param Iyer, secretary, drinking water and sanitation, government of India, tweeted congratulating Bijapur and Sukma districts for being declared ODF. On December 22, he had congratulated Dantewada and Kondagaon.

Bijapur’s district collector, Ayaz Tamboli, admits that the district has been declared ODF even when there are many villages where constructing toilets work is not possible. “We have been able to reach 85 gram panchayats and those have been made ODF. It is not easy to implement these programmes in parts which have a heavy Maoist presence,” he told the Indian Express.

Mangal Ram, resident of Pulod gram panchayat, says no one in his village of 60 homes and over 2,000 people has a toilet. Mangal Ram lives deep inside Bijapur’s forests with his wife and five children.

“If we build toilets, the dadalog (Maoists) will get angry and who knows what will happen? The government can do nothing and are only infrequent visitors here,” said a villager who does not want to be named.

In Darbha gram panchayat, a handful of toilets have been built, but this has led to a financial crisis. A village official who does not want to be named, says in Darbha, which has 300 homes, they built 11 toilets in the houses of those in the ward panch, and 30 toilets in Bechram village in the same gram panchayat. “But the government isn’t giving us the money (Rs 12,000 per toilet) now because the officials can’t come to review the work. We have stopped (building more),” he says.

Also read: Building (Only) Toilets Isn’t Always the Answer to Ending Open Defecation

Officials are not willing to come on record about why these areas have been declared ODF, reports the Indian Express. “This is a sensitive subject. The state government communicated with the Centre on this, and they were told that it is simply not possible to build toilets for the entire district. But they declared the district ODF anyway. Simply because the promise the chief minister made as far back as July 2016 that Chhattisgarh would be ODF by 2018 has to be fulfilled,” one says.

In a letter dated October 23, 2017, from the joint secretary, panchayat and rural development department of the Chhattisgarh government, S.L. Nayak to the managing director SBA, Chhattisgarh – also marked to Param Iyer – says that under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural), the Chhattisgarh government has decided the state must be made ODF by October 2, 2019. It says, according to information from left wing extremism (LWE)-affected districts, five districts in 12 blocks, 247 gram panchayats and 917 villages cannot be made ODF because toilets can’t be built due to security reasons.

The letter also adds that of the total of 1,467 villages, 917 – 62% – cannot be accessed. “Therefore, based on the information received in writing from the Collectors and Superintendents of Police, when the villages apart from these are open defecation free, permission is granted to declare the block/district open defecation free. Approval has been received from the chief minister,” it says.

The director of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Sonali Ghosh, said that the ODF status of Chhattisgarh excludes some inaccessible/LWE areas of five districts (that includes Bijapur and Sukma), in response to a questionnaire from the Indian Express.

(With PTI inputs)

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