Toilets over safe sanitation?
CAG reports of Gujarat and Uttarakhand, which are ODF status holders, say that many toilets only exist on paper and several are defunct
In the past four years, the government has built 85.8 million toilets throughout the country, which means it constructed around 40 toilets a minute. All this is when Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), the recent toilet programme, claims that its aim is not limited to building toilets, but providing safe sanitation to all by October 2019. The recent reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the state of toilets in two states that have been declared open defecation free—Uttarakhand and Gujarat—tell a different story.
While the SBM guidelines show a shift of focus from hardware to usage and safe disposal of excreta, the CAG reports, tabled in the state assemblies this week, say the states are only chasing numbers. In fact, the report adds that while the government makes tall claims on paper, few places don't even have a toilet at all.
The auditors surveyed 120 villages in Gujarat's eight districts—Dahod, Banaskantha, Chhotaudepur, Dang, Patan, Valsad, Jamnagar and Junagadh— during 2014-17. This state, which was declared open-defecation free in October 2017, has 41 such villages where toilets, constructed under the SBM, cannot be used as they have no water connection and 15 villages have no toilets at all, says the report. Also, the auditors add that Gujarat did not update its number of households after the baseline survey of 2012 and an SBM official justifies it saying the extra toilets were constructed under the Corporate Social Responsibility fund.
For example, 17,400 toilets in Kaprada tehsil of Valsad district in Gujarat were defunct, but the SBM officials tagged them as newly-constructed toilets only to be put to use in March 2018. But CAG was not satisfied as the auditors found that the beneficiaries were not using those toilets owing to non-availability of water or incomplete infrastructure.
Uttarakhand, a state that was declared open-defecation free much before Gujarat in May 2017, also has reported fake toilets on paper. When the auditors went to check the 1,143 toilets the government claimed it had built in villages along the Ganga, 41 of them were not found and 34 were still under construction, say auditors.
In Uttarakhand, more than 70 per cent of the toilets were built without any expert's guidance and in several areas, they were unusable owing to either a lack of water connection or that they were not built within people's premises, says the CAG report.
What qualifies as ODF?
Both the reports pose a question as to how a state or district is declared open defecation free. The Centre's guidelines clearly said that the verification on the state of open defecation cannot be a one-time process and the SBM officials need to be with the villages for nine months during the verification process. The Centre had also given states a free hand to decide if they would follow the guidelines or make their own. This resulted in the verification becoming a single-time process that caused toilets to exist on paper but not in reality.
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in its definition of ODF status, stresses on safe disposal of faecal matter, but the current scenario has wrong designs and incomplete structures, which are only adding to problems.
The states' CAG reports show that SBM is a desperate measure to meet the target within the stipulated time and is being turned into another hardware chase. The government still has 10.3 million households to cover in the next 12 months. This means almost
19 households need to be made ODF every minute. Isn't this again too much pressure?
(The author is the Programme Manager of Water Programme. She is a geologist by training and works on the policy related issues of water management and sanitation. The views expressed are strictly personal)