Hitesh Chavda, Gandhinagar: Ever since the Government declared its plan to make the country Open Defecation Free (ODF), the states have been in a race to prove itself and become the first one to be declared completely ODF. And in this race, corruption and malpractices have obviously crept in. Tall claims of making hundreds of toilets in the rural areas of the state have remained only on paper and the money allotted for it has been embezzled by the officials and agencies, hand in glove with each other.

One such case is of Palaiyya village in Nadiad taluka of Kheda district. An RTI application by a young villager Khoda Solanki and ground report by MeraNews has revealed that residents of the village have been cheated in the name of building toilets for them and lakhs of rupees siphoned off by corrupt officials. As per the Swachch Bharat Mission (Rural) for a village to be declared ODF, the gram panchayat is supposed to prepare a list of households that lack toilets (as per baseline survey 2012). The panchayat then grants contracts to firms or organizations who build the toilets in these households. The village sarpanch, with the recommendation letter from the talati, is later supposed to prepare a list of beneficiaries with their photos and submit it to the government, who according the releases the money to disbursed amongst the beneficiaries accordingly. But with red tape penetrated deep into the system, the elected representatives and government officials concerned with this project have embezzled lakhs of rupees, leaving this project in shambles.

Scam discovered through and RTI

Khoda Solanki, the RTI activist who discovered this scam through his RTI application tells us, “I had doubts regarding this project from the beginning itself. “I filed an RTI application seeking details about this project, but I was given only about half information regarding this. But with the available data, I had figured out that the names of several of the beneficiaries in the list never got toilets built at their houses, but the administration got funds for the same. The beneficiaries were completely unaware of the fact that funds for building toilets in their names are being siphoned off. There were a few other names too in the list of beneficiaries, who already had toilets in their house but their names figured in the list of those who needed toilets to be built. The welfare committee receives the funds allotted for building these toilets, who is then supposed to disburse it amongst the beneficiaries.”

The data received in the RTI shows that the welfare committee which falls directly under the gram panchayat received funds for building the toilets according to the list of beneficiaries it had submitted to the government. The committee received Rs 3,92,000 for 27 beneficiaries, and then another Rs 4,92,000 for 41 other beneficiaries. The amounts were given by cheque, which the committee encashed and after deducting their share, even paid off the private contractor who built the toilets. Upon examining the toilets, they are half-built structures, which have been lying as it is since a year and no one from the administration or the panchayat bothered to complete it.

Clueless Sarpanch?

We tried to contact the sarpanch of Palaiyya, Ramilaben Kantibhai Solanki, but it was her husband Kanti Solanki who received our call. He tells us that in the 41 toilets built in 2016-17 during the time of the previous sarpanch, drainage lines remain to be laid. He said that he has asked for 800 toilets to be built in the village, but it is yet to be approved. Upon being questioned about the corrupt practice in the toilet project, Kanti fumbled a lot in answering and said he will have to ask a certain Bharat from Javol village. He denied having any idea about the funds being received by the welfare committee of the panchayat but the funds not being disbursed to the beneficiaries.

Fake beneficiaries?

Jalam Solanki was a candidate for the sarpanch elections in December 2016. He had submitted an affidavit along with other documents while filing his candidature, that there is a toilet built in his house. But his name too, features in the list of beneficiaries for toilet project. Rs 12000 was supposed to be received by Jalam Solanki for the toilet construction, but the panchayat along with the Talati of the village swindled off the money along with many others.

Actual beneficiaries still await compensation

Vimlaben, a financially crippled senior citizen, along with her aging husband await the village welfare benefits to reach her, which includes building a toilet in her house. She had inquired with the panchayat, who sent her back saying her turn is yet to come.

Show-piece toilets

What we were shown as toilets were anything but toilets. They were just small cabins. There was no drainage laid or the toilet pot dug. Instead, people stored wood and haystacks inside them. The members claim they’re helpless as these so-called toilets were built about a year ago but the contractors never finished the work and left it midway after they got paid their share of the money.

Development officer of Kheda district, D.N Modi told us, “Now that I have got to know about this since you have informed me, I will surely verify and get back to you soon.”

This is not the first time that a toilet has broken out in the rural areas of the country. In 2017, government officials, NGOs, bankers and village authorities all were hand in glove and swindled money by creating fake beneficiaries in Bihar for building toilets.