- The district administration of Banda has imposed fines for open defecation
- Many BPL families in the districts do not have household toilets
- Rural Uttar Pradesh’s sanitation coverage is very poor at 44.13%
Eradication of open defecation is the primary motto of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and so far, with the construction of more than 4 crore toilets in three years, the progress can be seen in improved sanitation coverage to 64.18 per cent from 41.86 per cent. Some states have performed better than others, while the performance of some states has been below par. Uttar Pradesh has not been able to perform well in sanitation and cleanliness, as was evident from the Swachh Survekshan rankings of 2017 where 25 of the bottom ranked cities hailed from U.P. Keeping in line with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s ambitious deadline of making the state open defecation free (ODF) by October 2018, district administrations are taking stringent steps to stop the practice of open defecation, some of which are unconventional in nature.
In Bundelkhand, situated in southern Uttar Pradesh, problems of sanitation and water have been regular problems for the population. The districts of Jhansi, Lalitpur, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakoot together form the region of Bundelkhand, which has historically seen problems related to drought and scarcity of water. The sanitation coverage in all of these districts is on the lower side, with only Banda, Lalitpur and Jhansi having just over 60 per cent sanitation coverage in households in the districts. To stop people from defecating in the open, district administrations in Bundelkhand have taken measures which attempt to rein in people from defecating in the open, but do little to solve their sanitation problems.
In the village of Bhujwan Purva in Banda district, a fine of Rs 40 has been imposed on anyone who is found guilty of defecating in the open. A family of five members will have to pay a monthly fine of Rs 200, and in case a guest arrives, an additional fine of Rs 10 will be imposed on the family. Of the 120 families which stay in Bhujwan Purva, nearly 60 of them are Dalits and below poverty level, earning somewhere between Rs 2500 to 3000 per month. A majority of these families still live in thatched huts and have no individual household toilets. The imposition of the fine has resulted in them travelling to a forest area nearly two kilometres away to relieve themselves. Does the imposition of fine seem fair on people who do not have access to basic sanitation facilities?
The problem of open defecation is not just related to sanitation, but there are several social aspects to it as well. In a region like Bundelkhand where the poverty level is high and many people do not have access to basic facilities like toilets and water, imposing a fine will neither solve the problem of open defecation and neither is it justified. The district administration should look at alternative ways of solving the problem, said Mohammad Rafique of Disha Samajik Sansthaan, a Banda based NGO which helps in community development projects in the region.
The district administration has not been able to build enough toilets in Banda, despite the Abhiyan being nearly three years old. The administration maintains that reluctance to build toilets on the villagers’ part, along with severe water crisis in the region has resulted in partial implementation of toilet construction plans in the district. The district administration though, maintains that imposition of fine is only to deter people from defecating in the open, especially those who do have toilets in their households but are not using them. The administration is also hopeful that the move would prompt people to build toilets in their homes.
Lalitpur district’s administrative officials have found a unique way to deter people from defecating in the open. Aware of the district population’s love for guns, the district administration in June 2017 announced that people who do not have toilets in their households will have their arms licenses taken away. New arms licenses would also not be issued, if a person is found to not have a household toilet. The Lalitpur situation is slightly different from Banda, as many affluent households are also found without toilets in the village. The district administration is hopeful that arms licenses, which many hold very dear to themselves, can be a good way of convincing families with means to construct toilets.
Many families who are affluent continue to practice open defecation. These people have the resources and the means to construct toilets, but do not do it out of sheer habit. We identified nearly 80 such families and asked them to construct toilets immediately, or else we’ll declare their arms licenses invalid, said Pravin Kumar, Chief Development Officer, Lalitpur district.
These examples paint a slightly problematic picture of the sanitation campaign, especially in the context of rural India. For many rural Indians living below the poverty level, construction of toilets is still not an option primarily because of cost. For BPL families, the initial funding for construction can be borne by the administration or self-help groups (SHGs), as many district administrations across rural India are doing at present.
Target oriented programmes never fulfill their potential, as administrations tend to look for other options to somehow fulfill the target. Rural administrations, when confronted with sanitation challenges must look to change age-old behaviours and practices in order to change the sanitation scenario. Merely imposing fines will not work in the long run, said Sushmita Sengupta, Deputy Programme Director, Centre for Science and Environment.
Since Swachh Bharat funds are disbursed directly to the beneficiaries’ accounts, repayment of loans is not a problem. Coercion, on the other hand, that too without ensuring access to toilets for all, might not be the ideal way to push people towards stopping them from defecating in the open. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is also equally about bringing behavioural change among people. Instead of coercion, district administrations should focus on bringing in behavioural change among people through awareness camps and community participation activities so that the change is sustainable and eradicates the practice of open defecation out of consciousness, not fear.