SARVANASH BHARAT ABHIYAN
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 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 ground water because of the soak pit or leach pit design of toilets being promoted by the government. There should be a gap of 2 meters between the base of leach pit and the ground water 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 G.D. Agrawal, now Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand 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 construction 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 ground water sooner or later. In the madness to build toilets nobody is questioning the appropriateness of design. Considering that areas with non-expansive 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 almost half the country’s area is excluded. The cracks in rocks can also let polluted water seep through to the ground water 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 the alternative.
Considering who’ll benefit from the pollution of ground water – 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.
How the governments completes its target
Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, launched in 1999 and which ran upto 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 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 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. 10% toilets don’t have ceiling. Even the ones which have ceiling, it is 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% toilets the seat has not been installed, making them practically useless. 50% of them don’t have doors and hence cannot be used by females at all. Among the ones constructed hardly 5% toilets are usable, rest 95% 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 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 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.
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% 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. This is the state of affairs after Swachch Bharat Abhiyan has been in place for over 3 years now.
In a peculiar rarity above mentioned corruption is blessing in disguise because it’ll save our ground water.
How Swachch Bharat treats its Sanitation workers
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. 24 of these fortunate ones have been accommodated in proper housing on Hospital campus and 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, a Scheduled Caste which has traditionally been involved in sanitation and manual scavenging work in India. 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 focused 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).
By Sandeep Pandey
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