New Delhi: Polling has been concluded for the first phase of the Bihar’s assembly elections. The second and third phases of polling for the remaining constituencies are scheduled to be held on November 3 and November 7 respectively.
Meanwhile, the election campaign has heated up, with opposition leaders highlighting the incumbent government’s failures, on one hand, and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal United (JDU) making tall claims about developmental work in the state during the last 15 years, on the other. On both sides, poll promises abound.
The BJP and the JDU are primarily harping on rural electrification, piped supply of drinking water, public toilets, etc. as achievements of their governance. The incumbent JD(U) government in Bihar had launched the Saat Nishchay, or Seven Resolves, programme in 2015, under which development work on drinking water, public toilets, women’s empowerment, etc. was undertaken. Terming the earlier programme a success, the Nitish government has announced a follow-up scheme, called Saat Nishchay Part 2.
The BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are also boasting of the Centre’s policies in order to woo the electorate. But have these policies, in fact, been properly implemented at the ground level, or are the claims it merely hyperbole?
In this regard, government data presents an extremely worrisome picture.
In this report, The Wire analyses the implementation of one of Nitish Kumar’s seven resolves, ‘Construction of Toilets’ along with Modi’s ambitious ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ in Bihar.
A toilet for every house
In order to fulfil the state government’s ‘Shauchalya Nirman, Ghar Ka Samman’ resolve, schemes are being implemented under the ‘Lohiya Swachh Bihar Abhiyan (LSBA)’ by the Rural Development Department in rural areas and Urban Development and Housing Department in urban areas of the state.
The campaign was launched with the aim of making rural areas of the state open defecation free (ODF) and was to be implemented keeping in mind the provisions of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) in the Centre and LSBA in the state.
While according to figures by the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural), the entire rural India, including Bihar, has been declared open defecation free, a look at the number of verified toilets casts doubt on the government’s misleading claims.
Several recently published reports have challenged the government’s claim and have offered evidence that the toilets are either in a dilapidated condition or incomplete, while many people are still forced to defecate in the open. In some cases, the facilities are being used for other purposes.
The situation is no better in Nitish Kumar’s home turf, Nalanda.
In order to tackle the problem and ensure the construction of toilets, the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation under the Union Ministry of Water Resources issued guidelines on September 3, 2015. According to these guidelines, at least two verifications may be carried out after self-declaration of achievement of ODF status by any village or Gram Sabha.
“The first verification may be carried out within three months of the declaration to verify the ODF status. Thereafter, in order to ensure sustainability of ODF, one more verification may be carried out after around six months of first verification,” it stated.
The ministry said that the achievement of ODF status is not a one-time process, at least two verifications need to be carried out. The Bihar government’s guidelines also state that the physical verification of constructed toilets should be undertaken within ten days of receipt of the application.
However, according to the Swachh Bharat Mission data, toilets built in 1,374 villages of Bihar have not been verified even once. There are a total of 38,691 villages in the state, out of which 37,317 villages have been verified once under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural).
Surprisingly, toilet construction in any village in Bihar has not been verified a second time, highlighting discrepancies in the Centre’s claims that India is free of the problem.
Apart from Bihar, toilets built in the villages of Chandigarh, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Lakshadweep, Maharashtra, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have also not undergone a second verification.
Looking at the national average, it appears that while almost all the villages declared ODF in the country under Swachh Bharat Mission – Rural have been verified once, a second verification has been carried out in only 30% cases.
According to Swachh Bharat Mission data, out of 730 ODF villages in Bihar’s Araria district, the status of 21 villages has not been verified even once. Similarly, out of 1610 villages in the Banka district, 346 villages have not been verified at all.
Out of 825 villages in Buxar district, 158 villages have not been verified even once. Similarly, five villages in Gopalganj, 10 in Katihar, 46 in Khagadia, 23 in Lakhsarai and 20 in Madhepura have not been verified even once for their ‘open defecation free’ status.
If we look at other districts, toilet construction has not been verified even once in 202 villages out of 1,007 villages in Madhubani. Similarly, no verification has been done for 18 villages in Muzaffarpur, 90 in Nalanda, four in Saharsa, 10 in Sasaram (Rohtas) and 22 villages in Vaishali district after the villages declared themselves to be open defecation free.
Out of 1,111 villages in Purnia district, no verification of toilets under Swachh Bharat Mission has been done in 399 villages.
ODF status in the Ganga catchment area
Together under the Ganga Action Plan (Namami Gange) and the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural), 307 panchayat areas in 61 blocks of 12 districts in the state, namely Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Buxar, Katihar, Khagaria, Lakhisarai, Munger, Patna, Samastipur, Saran and Vaishali – located along the Ganga were to be rendered ODF.
Although all 761 villages in these districts have been declared open defecation free, only 742 villages have been verified once. It includes 472 villages situated along the Ganga.
None of these villages has been verified the second time even though second verification has been carried out for villages declared open defecation free in other states on the banks of the Ganga, including Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.
Photographs of only 80% of the toilets uploaded
According to the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation of the Ministry of Water Resources, a total of 1.2 crore toilets have been constructed in Bihar under the Swachh Bharat Mission – Rural since October 2, 2014.
Of these, 2.98 lakh toilets have been constructed in the year 2019-20. However, photographs of about 22 lakh or 19% of the toilets have not been uploaded, which raises questions about the reliability of these figures.
of the toilets built during 2019-20, the photos of about 20,000 toilets have not been uploaded.
The national average for uploading photographs of toilet construction is 94.65%. In comparison, Bihar lags far behind having uploaded photos of only 81% of the toilets built.
In the light of these figures, the state government’s claim that the state has been rendered open defecation free is a glaring overstatement.
What is Saat Nishchay Part-2?
Following the purported ‘success’ of Saat Nishchay, a subsequent Saat Nishchay Part-2 programme was recently announced. The second phase of the programme focuses on training the youth, women’s empowerment, irrigation and agriculture, cleanliness, infrastructure, connectivity and health facilities.
Nitish Kumar is facing flak for his mismanagement of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, as well as for the failure of his government to provide transportation facilities to migrant labourers during the lockdown, increasing rate of unemployment in the state, deteriorating healthcare system and the devastation caused by recurring floods.
In a report published earlier, The Wire analysed the implementation of Nitish Kumar’s other two resolves, the Clean Drinking Water Scheme and the Nali-Gali Yojana for drainage and by-lanes, pointing out how only 14% work under the Mukhyamantri Gramin Paijal Nishchay Yojana, – for the piped supply of clean drinking water in rural households – has been completed and less than half of the budget has been utilised.
Apart from this, only 42% of the projects assigned under the Mukhyamatri Gramin Gali-Naali Nishchay for pucca bylanes and drainage in rural areas have been completed.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.