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Not Really ODF

Goa must provide toilets to all households that need them

IN spite of its failure to deliver on its promise after several extensions of deadline to provide all individual households without toilets with toilets, the state government declared Goa to be open defecation free on August 31. The state government came up with a novel idea to meet the criteria to be ODF by promising installation of 538 community toilets across the state. It is interesting to note that the government presumed that Goa could be made ODF by providing only 538 community toilets, whereas at least 17,000 house owners, who lack toilet facilities, had applied for bio-digester toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission programme. The presumption of the authorities is that provision of community toilets within 500 metres of houses would help Goa become ODF. The community toilets are expected to serve largely migrants and the floating population. It remains to be seen whether migrants, who are used to defecate in the open, would use them. Most Goans who lack toilets would prefer individual toilets and there is possibility of many of them shunning use of community toilet.

Though the government promised installation of community toilets, it has been revealed that in most cases only the sites for their installation have been identified. As of now, most of the community toilets exist only on paper and people are continuing to defecate in the open in those areas. Interestingly, the authorities have put the onus of payment of water and power bills of community toilets on panchayats, many of which are fund starved. Community toilets need running water, and they need power, especially during the night time. It is also necessary that use of bio-digester toilets is proper so as to avoid frequent breakdown. Individual toilets could have served better purpose and their maintenance could have been proper. It remains to be seen how the government plans to create proper awareness among people about full use of community toilets and ensure that they continue to serve the intended purpose and not subjected to misuse by vested interests.  

Since the Swachh Bharat Mission was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi five years ago the state government has been unable to draw up a precise list of number of individual toilets required to make Goa ODF. The state government talked of different figures at different times. Even the surveys conducted by groups entrusted by the state government were found to have several flaws. It is  surprising to note that after claiming that 72,000 individual toilets would be needed to make Goa ODF, the state authorities brought down their number to 21,000-odd in their latest announcement. Interestingly, the statistics released by the central government in May this year showed that only 5.87 per cent of Goan villages were ODF, which was lowest in the country. The state has lagged behind all through the mission with the state government failing to make much headway in developing the infrastructure and providing the toilets for making Goa ODF. Most of the “achieved” targets claimed by the government have been only on paper. A survey by an independent agency has revealed that only 73.1 per cent of the villages in Goa were open defecation free.

The decision of the state government to fast track and declare Goa ODF on August 31 was perhaps aimed at avoiding shame for the failure to achieve the mission. But by just making official declaration, the government has on the contrary invited shame and dishonor as the major part of the task remains to be done and the public knows the real picture. It is expected of the state government to ensure that every household has a toilet, whose upkeep and maintenance would be easier and responsibility of house owners. To make Goa really ODF, it is necessary that the government knows the exact number of toilets. The authorities would then have to deal with the issues of land and tenancy that may come in way of installation of bio-digester toilets. These are issues that are complicated in most cases. They have to also provide the infrastructure for running water and uninterrupted power supply. They also have to make it clear who pays for the water and power, as panchayats might default on them.

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