Using Threats, Arrests and Benefit Cuts, Rajasthan Is Pushing Through the Swachh Bharat Mission

“I had built a toilet but it had no water and I ran out of money to build a door. So I was out in fields when they came and took (arrested) us.”

New Delhi: After former Union minister and current vice president M. Venkaiah Naidu expressed displeasure at Rajasthan’s performance in a Swachh Bharat survey on May 23, the state is leaving no stone unturned – however questionable – to achieve the ‘open defecation free (ODF)’ target. Steps taken include stopping subsidised ration, denying MGNREGA work, threats to cut electricity and warnings of action under the IPC, Indian Express reported.

Naidu had said he was “disappointed” after Rajasthan’s top district in the survey, Bundi, came in at rank 171. Popular tourist destinations Jodhpur (209), Jaipur (215) and Udaipur (310) fared much worse. The state government then decided to conduct an analysis of the numbers. Manjit Singh, principal secretary in the state’s local self-government department, told Indian Express that open defecation was the main reason for this performance. “It is not as if Indore (ranked 1) and Bhopal (2) are ‘cleaner’ than Jaipur, Jodhpur or Udaipur; we have good waste collection systems… Waste management and ODF account for 4% weightage. In Rajasthan, the construction of toilets under the ODF campaign took off a bit late, but we are well on our way,” Singh said.

What this has meant on the ground, however, is a “crackdown”, villagers told the newspaper. In addition to services now being linked to whether there are toilets in homes, they say, people are being arrested and threatened. According to the Indian Express, six people were arrested on August 20 in Bhilwara’s Jahazpur tehsil for open defecation under Section 151 of the Criminal Penal Code — “arrest to prevent the commission of cognisable offences”. Bansi Lal Meena, 42, who was among the six arrested, told Indian Express, “I had built a toilet but it had no water and I ran out of money to build a door. So I was out in fields when they came and took us.” He was kept at the police station for several hours, he said.

Dev Karan, a villager who helped the six make bail, raised eyebrows at the government’s priorities. “There is no cement concrete road in our village, there is no nullah, but they find faults in us,” he told Indian Express.

Two days before that, the Jahazpur sub-divisional officer Kartar Singh gave orders to disconnect the power supply to Gangithala village, because toilet construction in the village was at “19% despite repeated reminder”, the newspaper reported. The district collector withdrew this order after public outrage.

In Jhalarapatan in Jhalawar, households without toilets are no longer getting the ration they are eligible for. “Rations to a couple of villages were stopped to motivate them, as they weren’t constructing toilets,” Jhalarapatan block development officer Jitendra Singh told Indian Express. Rations have allegedly been stopped in parts of Rajsamand district too. “When we go to take rations, we are told we must first build toilets. When we ask under which order this ‘rule’ has been implemented, they give us vague answers,” said Bhairu Singh from Saras ka Guda village. The panchayat samiti pradhan, however, said that the stopping of ration is only a threat so far and has not been implemented.

Kamala Bai of Togi village in Rajsamand’s Bhim tehsil told Indian Express that many people in her village, including her, were denied work under MGNREGA. “We were told in May we won’t be given MGNREGA work as we didn’t have toilets. We contacted the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) which mediated and the verbal diktat was withdrawn,” she said, adding that she doesn’t have a toilet as “we barely have enough money to eat”.

On the Udaipur-Rajsamand border, the Rama gram panchayat has painted messages on walls saying the panchayat has been declared ODF and violators will be charged under IPC Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), and 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), as well as fined Rs 251, Indian Express reported.

This is not the first time reports of the state using coercion to implement its Swachh Bharat policy have come out of Rajasthan. In August, Sachin Rao wrote in The Wire:

Here’s what I learnt from Ghodach village in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. The administration had a clear target – make the village, and eventually the entire district, ODF. This target was backed with the precise data of the 565 families who had no toilets. The administration was indeed empowered, so much so that the block level officers have issued an official notice to ration shops to withhold grains from any family not certified as having a toilet at home. The nigrani committee (inspection committee) is comprised of elected officials, government employees and other influencers; in short the most powerful people in a feudal setting. Their work so far has been to spread terror. Their message is that toilets must be built at all costs. Those who do not do so will not receive rations and possibly lose other benefits such as pensions.

The targets of this mission in ‘behavioural change’ were the village’s poorest people who are in no circumstance to build or use a toilet. They are socially, politically and economically marginalised. They typically have no land, no assets and no savings. Their meagre income comes from irregular and hazardous daily labour in the nearby mines. The Public Distribution System grain makes the difference from hunger and starvation. They were told that the first step towards a working toilet was a pit to house their septic tanks. Fearing starvation, these families gave up daily wages to dig into the hard rock strata that their village sits on. The rock proved too hard and many simply gave up half way; others took debts to hire a JCB machine to blast through the rock. Even for those who have dug the pits, building a working toilet will cost at least Rs 20,000-30,000 more. No one has any idea where the money will come from. Even if a toilet is built, there is not enough water in this village to drink, let alone to maintain a toilet.