Pankti Jog: What will be your reaction, if one fine morning you get to know that the toilet in your house is listed to be built with the support of a government subsidy, that too under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category? What one might think is a silly joke is a reality for the residents of Dhangadhra city in Surendranagar district of Gujarat.
One of the residents and a Right to Information (RTI) activist, Saiyyad Imtiyaz, was shocked when he saw that the list of beneficiaries of the toilet subsidy scheme under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has three names from his family. Imtiyaz's family has been using toilets for years. These were built with his money. Elected to Dhangadhra municipality, he has been actively filing RTI requests and using the information he receives to improve the local governance system.
When he went a little deeper, he was further shocked to see that the entire scheme had been rotting with corruption, contracting and fake beneficiaries. “I do not know from where to start, but Swachh Bharat Abhiyan badly needs cleansing,” he told the RTI helpline run by the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel.
Over the last five months, the RTI helpline has received more than 65 queries wherein callers have reported following types of issues:
Where will the shit go?
Citizens genuinely need toilets and applied for the same. Initially, they were happy to see that their names were listed as proposed beneficiaries. But soon they learned that they must give account numbers and other details, including a pre-signed cheque, as part of the procedure for applying.
After the procedure is over, toilets are built by contractors with no soak pit or drainage line. Four walls, the pan and roof, that's all.
A Panchamahals resident told the RTI helpline: “There is no pit under the pan, where will the shit go? We could have used it for storing grass, but the quality is so poor that in three months the cement is falling off." When queried, Sarpanch Gordhanbhai told me, “Contracts are given to politically connected persons and are decided at the higher level. In my village, construction material was dumped in the front of the house of an influential political worker. Local contractors operated from there.”
The situation, as reported on the RTI hlpline, is not different elsewhere. In Sagtala village of Devgadh Baria block of Dahod district, a whole block of toilets has been built under the Swachh Bharat Mission, but the drainage line is missing. The caller wondered, "How can one build a toilet without either having soak pit or a drainage line? This toilet unit has been constructed under the rural job guarantee scheme, MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). Total waste of money, yet the government takes pride in having such structures built all over."
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is one of the favourite programmes of the government and is monitored by the Prime Minister's office, as also at the highest level in the state capital. In order to complete the targets, the authorities must show a list of beneficiaries. The gram sabha has to identify households without toilets. Forms have to be filled and submitted along with documents. A person can build her or his toilet, and partial support is given by the government. However, according to information received by us, more than 40 percent of toilets are either fake (they are not built at all), or are old ones listed for getting the government subsidy.
“The amount the government offers is so little that no one is actually motivated to build toilets. There are complications about arrangement of drainage lines, also. Water availability is another big issue. However, we have to show some targets completed every three months,” revealed a block official on condition of anonymity.
Another type of issue that is reported on the RTI helpline is that of delays in payments after making a toilet. At many places, beneficiary households that have made their toilets themselves are waiting for payments with no end in sight. Payments are often received through middlemen, in cash, that too after deducting Rs500-1,000.
Lack of transparency and accountability
Block offices keep getting complaints of irregularities in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan toilet scheme. But hardly any action is taken. Dozens of RTI applications have been filed to get details of the scheme, procedure for selection of beneficiaries and the list. Despite appeals, no information is furnished.
When asked why the information is not given, an RTI volunteer revealed that the public information officers of Banaskantha, Mehsana and Gandhinagar districts have been giving strange replies: “Once list is given, complaints will start,” or “The list is so long that it will take some time to compile,” or "How can I given someone else's name to a third party unless I ask him?"
"As per section 4(1)b of the RTI Act, and its manual numbers 11, 12, and 13, all the details of budgets, expenses and list of beneficiaries must to be disclosed at the local level on notice boards or on hoardings,” says Harinesh Pandya, a senior RTI activist. “There is a huge nexus between politicians and officials, and they keep shifting responsibility and blame each other. The government should ensure that the list is put on the website. I hope the Information Commission takes suo motu cognizance and asks the government to do so,” he adds.
Amid all the dark clouds, there is a silver lining: Common citizens like Saiyyad Imtiyaz, Gordhanbhai and others have not given up, despite the fact that they were offered money and were pressurized. They have filed RTI applications, made complaints and sought payment sheets and engineer inspection certificates to dig out all the shit that is hiding behind the implementation of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
(With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad)