Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh: The state of Uttar Pradesh was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in 2019. In other words, the state has built enough toilets for its 200 million people so they don’t have to defecate in the open. However, the ground reality is quite different, at least in the district of Sultanpur that comprises 1,741 villages.
Most of the people here continue to relieve themselves behind bushes or in open gutters because their toilets are either broken or half-built. The local pradhans and residents blame it on the lack of funds, 101Reporters found during a visit to Sultanpur recently.
Ram Manorath Yadav, who’s the pradhan of Nonara gram panchayat in Sultanpur, says they need at least Rs35,000 to build sturdy toilets and to maintain them. “We receive only Rs12,000 for building a toilet [under SBM]. We know this is not enough for building a better toilet but what can we do about it?” he added.
Yadav claims he took up the issue of insufficient SBM funds with the district authorities many times but he was either told "Rs12,000 is a support from the government” or that “people can pool in some money to make better toilets.”
Broken toilets, filthy tanks
For an area to get the ODF status, a government survey must confirm that the baseline demand for toilets there is met and that the menace of open defecation is eradicated, this report says. But Sultanpur’s reality contradicts both the checkpoints.
Take the case of Dhanrava village from Kurwar block. A local school, which didn’t want to be named, had interviewed 300 families from the village for a survey in 2018. It found that 60% of the residents defecated in the open because many of these SBM toilets needed repair and several families didn’t have a toilet in the first place.
Following the survey, the school representatives had questioned the village pradhan Isharat Khan on the shoddy construction and maintenance of the toilets. “He had assured us he will do something about it but nothing has changed since,” says a teacher from the school on the condition of anonymity.
A local school had conducted a survey on the status of toilets in Dhanrava in 2018. Credit: Vimlesh Kumar Pandey
101Reporters’ fieldwork upturned similar results in Dhanrava. The toilets remain mostly unused because either their doors are broken or because they are unhygienic.
Tabassum Shaikh from Dhanrava claims that her SBM toilet became “unusable” a year after it was constructed in 2017, forcing her and her family to defecate in the open. She showed us the squalid condition of the toilet - the septic tank was overflowing and let out an unbearable stench.
“The pradhan has been assuring us that we will get a new toilet but he’s done nothing so far,” says the science schoolteacher.
A woman from the locality interrupted our interview with Shaikh and said, "I have my ration card and Aadhaar card. I have submitted my documents many times yet the pradhan hasn’t built a toilet for my family.” This is Rubina Bano, a homemaker who’s forced to go out in the dark, deep into the fields, to relieve herself.
When 101Reporters reached out to Khan, the village pradhan, for comments, he simply said he doesn’t have the funds to repair toilets or build new ones. “If the government doesn’t give us money, what can we do?” he explained his position. He refused to take further questions, including how many families in Dhanavar don’t have toilets. He even tried to dissuade this reporter from clicking photographs of the toilets in the area.
Case of missing doors
The institutional apathy is on full display at Pure Gajadhar Tiwari, a village 15 kilometres away from Dhanrava, but so are the signs of desperation.
A ‘curtain’ of gunny bags stands in place of a door outside the toilet built for Shashi Vinod Tripathi’s family. "I know the pradhan will not repair [the broken door] and I don't have money to buy a new door for the toilet. So I hung the bori [gunny bags]. What’s the point of installing weak doors?” asks Tripathi, who works as a labourer.
A homemaker named Kausilya Tiwari claims she has spent Rs2,200 to add a new door to her SBM toilet. "I had approached pradhan and even the Block Development Committee for a new door but my requests went unheard,” the 32-year-old homemaker explains why she took the matter into her hands.
Four kilometres away, in the village of Kanupur, a couple of toilets stand without doors. This defeats the vision of Swachh Bharat Mission, which aims to provide privacy and calls these toilets Izzat Ghar (House of dignity).
Anita Biskarma has one such doorless toilet. The village pradhan died when the toilet was under construction — before the door was installed. “So it remains unused,” says the homemaker.
Radhe Shyam Yadav, the current pradhan of Kanupur said that he is not responsible for what the previous pradhan did or did not do for the village. "He had finalised the toilets. He is the only one to tell why doors were not attached," Yadav argues.
Dilapidated toilets, cashless pradhans and open defecation, 101Reporters witnessed this in other villages of Sultanpur too. So can the district or the state of Uttar Pradesh claim itself to be free of open defecation?
This 101Reporters' reporter visited the district magistrate Raveesh Gupta on three occasions to seek an explanation but he was either unavailable or busy to comment.
Local MLA Abrar Ahmed refused to meet us in person. He did come on a call only to talk about the development work he had done in these villages while ducking the questions related to SBM toilets.
“If the state government will do an authentic survey on this [matter], local pradhans will be in trouble. Many villages in Sultanpur are not Open Defecation Free,” Wakeel Ahmed, a resident from Dhanrava, tells us mockingly.
His remark is not far-fetched. Multiple studies have cast doubts on Modi government’s claim of achieving nearly 100 per cent toilet coverage under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Not every household in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh has an exclusive toilet, the same report goes on to write.
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