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41…Err 5 Villages: Bareilly Puts Out Wrong Numbers In Race To Be Open Defecation Free

Despite three years of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, both rural and urban areas of Uttar Pradesh have continued to perform poorly in the aspects of sanitation and cleanliness, where the overall rural sanitation coverage is 47.75 per cent. Adding to the problem of under performance is the unreliability of gram panchayat samitis and administrative officials in reporting figures and open defecation free (ODF) status of villages in the state

Toilets in UP
  • 5 and not 41 villages are ODF in the Bareilly district
  • The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has a three-fold verification system
  • Fudging of data could set a dangerous precedent for the mission

Village after village, district after district, from cities to states, there is a rush among all to attain the open defecation free (ODF) tag. After all, the 2019 deadline to make India 100% ODF is closing in. Government site tracks progress with real time status updates on ODF achievements. Like many, to display speedy progress in the eradication of open defecation in Bareilly in northern Uttar Pradesh, the District Panchayati Raj uploaded the names of 41 villages in the Swachh Bharat portal in March 2017. This was seen as quite an achievement for the district administration of Bareilly, considering rural UP’s sanitation scenario. Bareilly had 5 ODF villages till February 2017 and the ODF declaration of 36 more villages within a month was seen as a great feat, till it was realised that the data provided was incorrect and the number of ODF villages in the district stood at only 5.

On April 2, a state level committee submitted a report, stating that only the villages of Ramnagar, Shergarh, Mohenpur, Aonla and Shahi were open defecation free. The rest of the 36 names provided to the state level committee did not have 100 per cent sanitation coverage and defecation was rampant. So how was such a discrepancy allowed to pass through the various levels of cross checking and reflected in the portal for public viewing?

“The gram panchayat samiti had submitted a report which contained the names of 41 villages. The names were added to the portal based on the list. If the panchayat samiti submitted an incorrect report, and if the state verification committee finds discrepancies in the report and the actual number of villages which are ODF, the names would be removed from the portal, ” said Vinay Kumar Singh, District Panchayati Raj Officer, Bareilly.

To ensure that there is no fabrication of data with regard to declaration of ODF villages, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has implemented a three-fold monitoring and reporting process. The gram panchayat samiti sends a report to the District Panchayat officer, who sends a team to verify that a village has 100 per cent sanitation coverage and not a single person is defecating in the open. The district level report is send to divisional level that employs a similar process to verify the veracity and send a report to the state inspection team which has the final authority to declare a village ODF. The state inspection team is also supposed to notice behavioural changes in inhabitants before declaring a village ODF. In the case of Bareilly, the names were uploaded to the Swachh Bharat portal before the state verification committee had submitted a final report.

UP has performed poorly in eradicating open defecation

UP has performed poorly in eradicating open defecation

The names were submitted to the portal by the District Panchayat Raj Officer. Our findings and the state committee’s findings did not show 36 villages which were ODF. We have already asked the Chief Development Officer to investigate why there was discrepancy in the numbers and why the names were uploaded even before the final state committee report was submitted, said Pinky Jowel, Additional District Magistrate, Bareilly.

In November 2016, the state government of Uttar Pradesh had decided to directly transfer the sum of Rs. 12,000 per toilet to beneficiaries, instead of transferring them to the village sarpanches, to avoid the risk of funds misappropriation. The uploading of the names of 36 villages as ODF is being termed as an error by both the DPRO and the district administration, and the names are being planned to be removed, citing verification error. But what the Bareilly episode displays is a worrisome trend of discrepancies in the actual and declared numbers of ODF villages or towns under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Even the urban wing of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has seen occasional discrepancies in data where civic bodies have tried to rank themselves up in the list of most efficient municipalities. In January 2017, the Ministry of Urban Development launched the Swachh Bharat app for citizens to register civic complaints on unmoved garbage, lack of toilets and overall uncleanliness. However, the municipalities of Surat, Ahmedabad and Mumbai had fudged the number of complaints received by them via the app, to show that they received some of the biggest number of complaints from citizens. When the data was cross checked, it was revealed that several complaints were registered from a single mobile number. The civic bodies were duly reprimanded for the act.

We had issued stern warning to the municipalities of Surat, Ahmedabad and Mumbai to ensure that such fabrication of numbers are never repeated. This is not only against the spirit of the mission but also makes it very difficult for us to determine the actual state of affairs as far as citizens and their complaints are concerned, said Saurabh Jain, Director, Swachh Bharat Mission.

Such instances of data fudging sets a very problematic precedent for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Given the scale of the mission, every village, town and city in India is inching towards cleanliness and eradication of open defecation. But the data for open defecation or citizens’ complaints must be prepared with actually verified numbers received from all respective monitoring authorities. Failure to do so will only increase in instances similar to Bareilly where the ODF tag remains on the portal but the habit of openly defecating remains a reality in the villages.

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