Sandeep Pandey is a social activist and an academician. An IT, BHU alumunus he has taught at IIT Kanpur, IIT BHU and IIT Gandhinagar. He is a Magsaysay awardee. He set up Aasha for Education while working on his PhD from University of California
United Nations Special Rapporteur Leo Heller has criticised India’s water and sanitation policies and said its implementation lacks a clear and holistic human rights-based approach. According to him, the Indian government’s emphasis on constructing toilets should not overshadow the focus of drinking water provisions for all and it should not involuntarily contribute to violating fundamental rights of others, such as those specific, caste-affected groups engaged in manual scavenging or those who are marginalised such as ethnic minorities and people living in remote rural areas. The government as expected has rejected his report.
However, there is a real threat to groundwater because of the soak pit or leach pit design of toilets being promoted by the government. There should be a gap of 2 metres between the base of leach pit and the groundwater table. But in the tarai belt of north Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and even West Bengal, at most places the water table is very high. Famous environmentalist, former member secretary Central Pollution Control Board and Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, Professor GD Agrawal, now Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand in a new avatar, says that UP and Bihar ‘float’ over water. Leach pit toilets should also be 15-20 m away from hand pumps or wells, which may not always be possible in the dense population of these areas. The design given to schools for contruction of toilets has only one leach pit instead of the standard two, which will create a problem when one pit is full.
The faulty design is likely to pollute the groundwater sooner or later. In the madness to build toilets nobody is questioning the appropriateness of design. Considering that areas with inexpensive clays, compact silty loams, compact silty clay loams, porous silty clay, porous silty clay loam, hills, rocky terrain, plateaus and black cotton soil is unfit for this design, so almost half the country’s area is excluded. The cracks in rocks can also let polluted water seep through to mix with the groundwater table. That is why IIT, Kanpur, graduate and ferrocement construction expert Dr Ashok K. Jain calls the Clean India Campaign as ‘Sarvnash Bharat Abhiyan’ and proposes septic tank design as an alternative. Considering who’ll benefit from the pollution of groundwater - the bottled water industry - the problem starts looking more sinister. In India substantial market of bottled water is captured by Pepsi and Coca Cola.
The conspiracy of silence of the scientific and technological community in the country on this issue is inexplicable.
Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, launched in 1999 and which ran up to 2012, was called the Total Sanitation Campaign. The objective was to eradicate open defecation by 2017. It was based on the idea of community involvement so that cultural values of people would change and they would start using the toilets.
However, after looking at the construction of toilets in a neighbouring district of Lucknow it can be said, the quality of work needs much to be desired and certainly we are quite far away from fulfilling the objective. In the Gram Panchayat Kaudia, Block Bharawan, District Hardoi a survey was conducted during 3-5 August, 2016, of the 576 toilets built by the Gram Panchayat.
There was discrepancy between the beneficiaries on ground, names mentioned on the toilets built and the list supplied by Village Panchayat Development Officer.
In Village Dehua of the GP all the 32 toilets mentioned in the official list are fake because nothing exists in reality.
Only one sack of cement has been used to construct one toilet, as a result the plaster is coming off in all of them. Sub-standard bricks have been used instead of good quality ones. 10 per cent toilets don’t have ceilings. Even the ones which have ceilings, these are made of sheet instead of RCC. Only one soak pit has been constructed in more than half of the constructed toilets and even that has been damaged as it has not been constructed following the standards. The floor of toilets has given in in almost all toilets indicating even that has not been constructed following the standards.
In 30 per cent toilets the seat has not been installed, making them practically useless. Fifty per cent of them don’t have doors and hence cannot be used by ladies at all. Among the ones constructed hardly 5 per cent toilets are useable, rest 95 per cent are either closed or being used as storage space for wood, cow dung cake, etc. A number of toilets were found damaged indicating the poor quality of construction.
In village Ramnagar of the GP 1 toilet is fake, in Baraua 4 toilets are fake, in Kaudia 93 toilets are fake, in Mandauli 4 toilets are fake, in Kathauni 42 toilets are fake whereas in Veerpur 4 more toilets have been built than shown on paper. Some beneficiaries have been mentioned twice, the duplication artificially increasing the number of beneficiaries.
Rs. 10,000 was released for each of the 576 toilets. It is estimated that out of Rs. 57,60,000 spent by the government an embezzlement of Rs. 38,57,000 took place. When a complaint was made to the administration during the previous Samajwadi Party government about this corruption, a senior bureaucrat, Joint Secretary in the Panchayati Raj Department reported on 1st September 2016 that there was no misuse of funds in the construction of 576 toilets. Another complaint was filed after the Bhartiya Janata Party government came to power on Chief Minister’s portal. Authorities reported on 27th October 2017 that only 441 toilets were found on ground. Money for 56 toilets was still in GP account and 79 toilets had disappeared in floods or because of lack of maintenance! It is a wonder how an official had claimed a year earlier that the target was met.
4. 5 per cent usage
In reality during another survey conducted on 3rd August 2017 only 26 toilets were found to be in use, a low figure of 4.5 per cent of the target. The quality of remaining 380 built is so abysmal that they can’t be used. In the government records, of course, there is nothing wrong with them.
In a visit to another Gram Panchayat Uttar Kondh on 15 December, 2017 in the neighbouring Block Sandila of District Hardoi a shocking fact has come to light. The Gram Pradhan when asked how many toilets have been built as part of the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan said not a single one! The village has only 20-25 toilets all built with personal funds. In fact, no money has been sent to this GP even though request has been made. The Gram Pradhan Bhola Singh revealed that money under Swachch Bharat Abhiyan is being given only to Gram Sabhas with smaller population so that the Open Defecation Free target may be met sooner. GSs like Uttar Kondh with 700-750 families have been left out. Such a window dressing kind of functioning has become a characteristic of the Bhartiya Janata Party government.
Upon a visit to the Primary School of the GP Uttar Kondh the Principal Shubhiraj Tripathi revealed that the school toilet was not functioning as there was no sanitation worker appointed. Somebody whispered from behind that the village has no Valmiki family, a Scheduled Caste which has traditionally been involved in sanition and manual scavenging work and which provides sanitation workers to most places, public and private, in India. Young US researchers Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, who had set up Institute for Compassionate Economics in Sitapur, UP, have come up with a finding which doesn’t appear to be too surprising. They say that Swachch Bharat Abhiyan will not succeed in India until the society here gets rid of the pernicious caste system.
When the school toilet was actually inspected a major goof up was spotted. The girls’ toilet has a male urinal pot in which men or boys urinate in a standing position. However, the Principal, Gram Pradhan or the Village Development Officer present there didn’t seem embarrassed as the toilet was not in use in any case. It appeared that the toilet standing there was merely to be treated like a show piece to fulfill some silly government requirement. Otherwise there didn’t seem to be any use for it there even though the lady Principal confessed that she faces problem when she has to relieve herself. This is the state of affairs after Swachch Bharat Abhiyan has been in place for over three years now. In a peculiar rarity abovementioned corruption is blessing in disguise because it’ll save our groundwater.
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia is a state government hospital in Lucknow. According to the government policy most regular hiring at lower levels is replaced by contractual workers or worse, labour contractors supply the staff. One such agency Apnatech Consultancy Services Pvt. Ltd. was given the contract for supplying ward-boys, ward-ayas (maids), drivers and sanitation workers. Except for the fact that they are paid by the contractor, for practical purposes all these workers work as hospital staff. Twenty-four of these fortunate ones have been accommodated in proper housing on Hospital campus, while other 14, working in similar positions, have to live in temporary makeshift hutments on the campus itself. The contractor, on directions from district administration, has issued a notice to its own workers to vacate the campus soon otherwise they have been warned that they will be bulldozed. It is noteworthy that while only one of the 24 accommodated in campus housing is a sanitation worker, 10 out of 14 facing eviction are sanitation workers all belonging to the Valmiki community. The elite society, dominated by upper caste, has always treated its manual workers, mostly dalits, like this - the elite extract work from them and when it comes to providing the workers basic facilities, the elite simply refuse to take any responsibility. With the district administration, hospital administration and the contractor not willing to take any responsibility for these workers, they face an uncertain future. They don’t know whether they’ll have their hutments and their work for very long.
Children of these workers, including the sanitation workers, study in schools which are near the hospital and if the families are expelled from the campus the studies of children will be affected. If the parents are forced to move quite far away from the campus, the children will not be admitted to any new school at this advanced stage of the academic year. They may even have to drop their year or studies. In such a scenario some of them may have to return to their traditional occupation rather than dream of doing something else to break the vicious cycle of manual work, which is more of a humiliation, even after the Prime Minister is running a high profile campaign focussed on it. The plight of these workers has never been highlighted in the Clean India campaign and the current situation shows the even after this campaign India will continue to treat its sanitation workers the way they have been always treated (read humiliated).
The country also witnessed the flogging of four dalit youth in Una, Gujarat in 2016 when they were suspected of cow slaughter whereas they were actually skinning carcasses of dead cows, which was their traditional occupation. This incident was video taped and made public by the assaulters themselves. lawyer Jignesh Mevani, recently elected as a MLA from Vadgam. Jignesh Mevani has been demanding land for dalits so that they are not forced to engage in inhuman occupations like manual scavenging or skinning of animals. But the administration and government does not help dalits take possession of land officially allotted to them, which blocks their path of emerging out of a life of poverty and humiliation.
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