- Advisory by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation post false ODF report
- Advisory fixes responsibility on sarpanches and officials for ODF claims
- Strict action will be taken against those resorting to false ODF claims
The Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) has issued a fresh advisory to states and union territories regarding Open Defecation Free (ODF) certifications. The advisory is the result of false declaration of ODF that have emerged from some states, like 155 villages in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh have been falsely declared ODF. Following complaints that started emerging two weeks ago, officials deployed by the district’s Additional Magistrate, found over 2,000 instances of open defecation and many households without toilets. A similar incident has also been reported from Meerut on November 1, where in a certified ODF village only 80 of 440 households were found to have toilets. These incidents cast a shadow of doubt on the verification process adopted before declaring a village, district, urban local body or state ODF.
Sanitation being a state subject, the Swachh Bharat Mission has given states autonomy to conduct state supported surveys to check open defecation free status in villages and report back to the Centre. The Centre checks a small share of ODF villages/districts for final evaluation. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation advisory issued on November 8 states that ODF declaration on behalf of the villages must come only after local committees have ensured that a village has individual household toilets in each household and no open defecation is taking place.
Since the mission is also looking to bring about behavioural change among people, the advisory has pointed out the need to involve people in building toilets, so that they continue healthy sanitation practices after toilets have been built. The advisory also asks officials and community leaders to ensure that the quality of toilets be monitored during construction so that toilets remain usable after construction and any discrepancies in quality can be pointed out when it is being built. The advisory also mentions that ODF declaration for a village or district on the Swachh Bharat Management Information System (MIS) should happen only after reasonable checks on the ODF claims.
The advisory also fixes responsibility on officials accountable for ODF declaration. At the Gram Panchayat level, the Sarpanch is accountable for the Gram Panchayat’s claim of becoming ODF. At the district level the District Magistrate/Chief Executive Officer/Chief Development officer is responsible for verifying a district’s ODF claim. The advisory states that strict action will be taken against those who resort to incorrect reporting of ODF status of a village or a district. Action will also be taken against those whose negligence may result in the building of incomplete and unsafe toilets. In case of the Madhya Pradesh incident, 400 officials have been identified for the fiasco and will face action, as promised by the state government.
Recent reports not only tarnish the image of a programme which has largely been successful but also bring forward attempts by local administrations to declare a village or a district ODF only to meet the ODF deadline. The programme does not aim at that and neither should any state or district. We want to bring in behavioural change in the whole sanitation scenario and any false ODF declarations will be dealt with accordingly, said Mr Arun Baroka, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
With the completion of three years of its operation, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has two crucial years ahead, and the target that remains to be achieved by 2019 is stiff leading to pressure to declare villages, urban local bodies, districts and states open defecation free (ODF). For India to meet its 100 per cent ODF deadline, 12 crore of toilets have to be built by October 2, 2019 that is almost double the number of toilets built in the last three years.
Though the advisory is only for the rural wing of the sanitation programme, the urban wing of the Swachh Bharat Mission, which is presided by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs shares concerns on false ODF declarations. While no such cases have come up yet, the ministry is wary of such possibilities and has instructed state officers-in-charge to be particular with ODF verifications and declarations.
For individual household toilets, we verify whether they have space, sewage systems and water supply in place before sanctioning the Central grant. Therefore, chances of false declarations are minimal. For areas which are dependent on community toilets, nodal officers must be regularly in touch with civic bodies to ensure that false ODF declarations are not entered into the system, said Vinod Kumar Jindal, Joint Secretary, Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).
The process of verification of toilets and declaring a village or a district ODF is one of the core objectives of the Abhiyan as ODF certification can only be obtained after thorough verification by districts and states. It can now be expected that the advisory will be effective at the ground level and states, districts and gram panchayats will focus more on ensuring proper sanitation, rather than rushing to meet the ODF deadline. With 71.28 per cent sanitation coverage and seven open defecation free states, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan enters a crucial year as some of India’s largest states like Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are scheduled to go open defecation free in the next one year.