Goa government must make toilets that do not become dysfunctional
The state government has set August 31 as the new target to make Goa open defecation free (ODF). The announcement was made by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in the recently concluded Assembly session. It is surprising to note that the government has brought down the number of toilets required by families in the state significantly from 60,000 to mere 21,000. The Chief Minister said that a fresh survey helped his government in identifying the “exact” number of households without toilets. Manohar Parrikar as chief minister had declared that 72,000 toilets were needed to be built to declare the state ODF. The state government subsequently brought down the number to 60,000, without much clarity as to how the revised number was arrived at. Serious questions were raised about the surveys carried out to identify households without toilets in the towns and villages across the state. Households were not properly listed. How did the government arrive at the revised numbers? Surveys of such kind are generally widely publicized so as to ensure maximum coverage and that none of the deserving people is left out. Since it is question of making Goa really ODF the authorities need to ensure that none of the houses has been left out of survey and if need be a resurvey should be done. There has to be inquiry to fix responsibility for those inside and outside the government who arrived at the figures of 60,000 and 72,000 households when the number according to re-enumeration was actually 21,000? Was there a design in the past to inflate the number of households without toilets in order to defraud the public exchequer?
Nevertheless, as no surveys other than those carried out for the government are available, the latest revised number of 21,000 households without toilets has to be accepted. Yet, with less than three weeks to go for the deadline, will the government be able to construct these many toilets all over the state to make Goa fully ODF? Less than three months ago the Chief Minister had said the state would need at least six months to complete construction of toilets. Deadlines announced by the government since 2017 could not be met by them for one reason or another. At one time the state government had promised to make Goa the first state in the country to be ODF free. Goa was supposed to be a brand ambassador of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. A number of reasons have been cited for the failure, including inability to identify actual number of houses without toilets, lack of funds, inability of house owners to get permission from land owners and identification of proper toilet technology. The latest factor behind failure to complete the projects was enforcement of model code of conduct in view of parliamentary polls and by-elections to the Assembly.
The government has set August 15 as the date for rolling out the work of construction of toilets. The government will have just 15 days to set up bio-digester toilets in 21,000 households, of which 17,000 are in rural areas and 4,000 in urban areas. On an average 1,400 toilets daily would have to be constructed within the stipulated period. The government would need to also provide water connections. Will the agency selected to set up the toilets be able to meet the deadline? Or will the date to make Goa ODF be extended further is the moot question that is being asked.
Now that the government claims to have removed all the roadblocks they should gear up their machinery to make sure their efforts do not meet the fate of past promises to make Goa ODF free. The government has armed itself with necessary laws to ensure that its latest efforts do not face hurdles. However, no one knows which agency will execute the work of constructing toilets. The government has warned that on declaring Goa ODF, it would start imposing fines on those found defecating in public. The government has a great responsibility to fulfil before it starts imposing fines. The agency assigned the job should not make faulty toilets. And the government must provide water and other infrastructural support for the toilets to be satisfactorily in use.