The Swachh Bharat Mission sees multiple scams and lapses; here’s how a village came together to tackle the issue.
“Toilets first and temples later”, said PM Narendra Modi in the build-up to the 2014 general elections which the BJP swept. Soon after, the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched with the promise of an open-defecation free India. So far, according to government figures, 2,94,640 villages have been declared open-defecation free.
“We go to the forest to defecate. Nobody cares if we’re bitten by tigers or snakes.”
Saraiya village in Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi district was one of the targeted villages but over 400 people had to defecate in the open even after the funds for the toilets were released and a contractor given the project.
“We go to the forest to defecate. Nobody cares if we’re bitten by tigers or snakes”, says a disgruntled Narvardas, a resident of Saraiya. The lack of toilets leads to disease and death, it also leads to sexual harassment and to girls dropping out of school. But in villages like Saraiya, authorities involved in the implementation of the scheme were busy embezzling the funds instead of addressing the serious threats that open defecation poses.
Community Correspondent Kailash Singh met Narvardas and other residents of Saraiya to assess the severity of the problem and plan a course of action. Armed with his camera, Kailash tried to find out what the roadblocks were. What he found was a story of apathy and corruption. The contractor and the village council secretary had taken photographs of the sanitation facilities of the village to procure funds from the government and pocketed them.
“People were bring treated in an unjust manner, and in the meantime, the more powerful ones pocketed an amount of 3.24 lakh”, says Kailash who then made a video on the issue.
Community action has emerged as a strong way to address issues of implementation in government schemes related to sanitation.
Corruption in the Swachh Bharat Mission is not rare. In Madhya Pradesh itself, unearthing a multi-crore toilet scam led to the arbitrary transfer of bureaucrat Niaz Ahmed Khan. Instead of the recommended 14kgs, many doors weighed 4kgs and the remaining money was siphoned off. Earlier this month reports from Assam alleged that government data on the number of toilets built is an exaggeration and the money is being embezzled along the way.
Kailash’s timely video and persistent follow-ups, however, ensured that a similar story would not be repeated in Saraiya. He showed his video to the village community and then met the village council head more than three times to ensure that the funds for the toilets were properly used. He also encouraged the village residents to bring up the issue at the village council meetings and with the collective efforts, the toilets were finally ready after four months.
Monitoring the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission and of health and sanitation schemes is something that our correspondents consistently address through their video reports and activism, and community action has emerged as a strong way to address them.
Video by Community Correspondent Kailash Singh
Article by Alankrita Anand, a journalist in the VV editorial team