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
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, the quality of work leaves 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 local government.
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 all the 32 toilets mentioned in the official list are fake because nothing exists in reality.
Barrage of Fakes
Only one sack of cement has been used to construct one toilet and as a result, the plaster is coming off in all of the remaining which were ‘built’. Sub-standard bricks have been used instead of good quality ones. Ten per cent toilets don’t have ceiling covers. Even the ones which have ceilings are made of plastic sheets instead of RCC.
Only one septic tank 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 floors have given 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. 50 per cent of them don’t have doors and hence cannot be used by females 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 one 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.
Rupees 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 and government about this corruption, a senior bureaucrat Joint Secretary in the Panchayati Raj Department reported that there was no misuse of funds in the construction of 576 toilets.
If pressure was mounted on the government to conduct an enquiry and take action, a small portion of the embezzled money, as the government enquiry will necessarily show lesser corruption, will be recovered from the lowest level in the ladder of responsibility. The Gram Pradhan and the Village Development Officer will have to split the amount to be recovered from them.
However, a senior level officer, like the one who has written a reply saying there is no misuse of funds would easily escape any action. Unless the senior level bureaucracy is held accountable it is unlikely that corruption at the lower end will cease.
So long as the culture of corruption does not go away it is unlikely that even an atmosphere can be created where cultural values of people, so far as use of toilets is concerned, will undergo any transformation at all.
If we compare India’s situation with her neighbours then it would become clear that governments in India have
not given priority to construction to toilets. In India mere 34 per cent population had access to improved sanitation in 2010 compared to 92 per cent in Sri Lanka, 64 per cent in China, 56 per cent in Bangladesh, 48 per cent in Pakistan and 44 per cent in Bhutan. The only country which is worse than India is this regard is Nepal with only 31 per cent population having access to improved sanitation.
Does the caste system have any relationship with low percentages of population having access to improved sanitation in two Hindu dominated nations in the region? In India the caste system further prevents the dalits from using available toilets. For example, a number of dalit domestic workers who do different chores like cleaning, cooking or baby sitting in mostly upper caste middle class or upper middle class households do not have permission to use the toilets inside these homes. They have to find some bush, tree or wall outside to relieve themselves.
Narendra Modi’s cleanliness drive has completed three years. Citizens were charged a new cess. Large amount was spent. But the ground reality doesn’t seem to have changed. The cows are eating as much plastic on roads as they were doing before and amount of untreated sewage that flows into river Ganga in Varanasi remains the same as before.
In the Swachh Bharat campaign Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacles are being used as a symbol to remind people of Gandhi’s insistence on cleanliness. Otherwise Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the parent of Bhartiya Janata Party, is known to be intolerant towards Mahatma Gandhi.
Last year in a city which was Narendra Modi’s political headquarters before he barged onto the national scene, when an organisation called Human Development and Research Centre put out an advertisement seeking applications from general category candidates for the position of sanitation workers, it did not go down well with organisations associated with upper caste mentality, including, interestingly, some non-Hindu ones.
The advertisement put up in April, 2016 had sought applicants who would be willing to clean office, courtyards and toilets. It was said that candidates from general category - Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Patel, Jain, Syrian Christian, Parsi, Pathan and Muslim - were to be given first preference. Nobody applied and the advertisement was removed.
A month later on June 21 and 22, some upper caste men stormed the office of HDRC saying that the advertisement was an insult to them and have become a threat for its director. Among the ones who were up in arms included Brahmin, Kshatriya, Patel, Saiyad Muslim and Syrian Christian organisations, all of whom consider themselves from privileged castes and doing a cleaning job below their dignity.
Question is when Mahatma Gandhi from Gujarat tried to give respect to sanitation activity and was famous for making every new arrival in his Ashram clean the toilets, and Narendra Modi, also from Gujarat, is running a high profile Clean India campaign, why should people in Ahmedabad feel insulted when they are offered cleaning jobs?
It clearly shows that upper caste people are not able to overcome the caste related taboos and still cannot mentally accept a job which has traditionally been performed by dalits. The fact that nobody applied for this job also exposes the bogusness of argument about reservation to be offered on the basis of need. Was there no needy person from general category in Ahmedabad who could have taken up the cleaning job at HDRC? It appears that society would like to persist with a 100 per cent reservation system in cleaning jobs for dalits.
The upper caste people who feel offended by a mere advertisement must also think how humiliating it must be for youth from the community which is involved in manual scavenging work, even though there is a law against it, or for a dalit youth to get down into a sewer from where there is no guarantee of safe return.
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 declared the activity of manual scavenging illegal and anybody found to have constructed dry latrines could be fined and even imprisoned. Not a single person was found guilty under this Act. When this Act was unable to root out the menace, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 was brought in by the Manmohan Singh government with more stringent punishment for violators and provision for rehabilitation for the victims.
The estimate of number of sanitation workers dying inside the sewer lines because of suffocation from hydrogen sulphide, methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide varies from a hundred to over twenty two thousand every year. Even though Supreme Court has ordered a compensation amount of Rs. 10 lakhs to anyone dying under these circumstances, it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of deaths because most often them are not regular employees of municipal corporation, it is probably a person hired on daily basis just like the person who climbs on an electricity pole to fix a fault.
When a daily wage worker, probably supplied by a contractor, dies in hazardous jobs the tendency is to settle the matter without taking recourse to the legal route, which could be arduous and uncertain, in exchange for an amount much lower than what SC prescribes. Obviously, such deaths are not even reported in official records.
Considering the risk and stigma attached to general sanitation job it is a shame that upper caste persons have a condescending attitude towards this job and hold persons involved in these activities in disdain. The least they could do is have respect for the very essential job of cleaning and for the people currently engaged in this vocation.
There should be a demand to completely bring an end to the most humiliating jobs of manual scavenging and for persons entering manholes. Machines should replace humans when the nature of job is hazardous or humiliating. Upper caste bias is also reflected when jobs like roti making are automated when done on large scale but not manual scavenging.
A number of people participate in Clean India campaign merely because of the photo opportunity it provides. There is really no serious community participation anywhere for any real cleaning
activity. The job continues to be performed by people from dalit communities, as it always was, who did not appear in any of the pictures taken during Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, the Prime Minister has made a mockery of the entire vocation and not given due respect to the community of sanitation workers. As there is no change in the mentality of caste ridden Hindu society towards the cleaning job, it is no wonder that incidents like the one in Ahmedabad take place. Later some dalit youth were flogged in Una, also in Gujarat, on the suspicion of cow slaughter by some upper caste people, whereas the reality is that they skin dead cows. Probably more money was spent in publicity rather than actual cleaning in the Clean India campaign.
Somebody in the Modi government has come up with the stupid idea of shaming people by taking their photographs when they are defecating in the open. Recently in an incident in Mehtab Shah slum in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan Municipal Corporation employees in the presence of a Commissioner beat to death an activist, Zafar Khan, who was objecting to women being photographed in this manner one morning. Do the women who defecate in the open enjoy doing so? When they don’t have toilets at home, where are they supposed to go to relieve themselves? If people don’t have toilets who is supposed to build it for them?
If anybody was to be punished for open defecation of women in Mehtab Shah slum it should have been the government officials whose responsibility it was to create the toilets. If the land on which the slum was built was government land and possibly personal toilets could not have been built on it then the government should have got a Sulabh toilet built there.
The policy of Narendra Modi has created a new category of discrimination in India. It mostly overlaps the rich-poor or caste-outcaste divide - the toileted and the toilet-less.
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