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ODF On Paper

Goa govt must build individual and community toilets by Oct 2

Even though reports from various parts of the state suggest that not all households that were supposed to get a toilet have got one, the state government claimed that Goa had achieved the distinction of being Open Defecation Free (ODF) on August 31. The declaration followed a direction from the state government to civic bodies and panchayats to declare their areas ODF, a direction which they were only too happy to obey even though they were not actually ODF. The declaration is mysterious as the government had neither provided bio-digester toilets to the needy individual households nor community toilets for common use in villages or towns. It remains to be seen where the people without toilets would defecate after the declaration, as defecating in open spaces has been made a criminal offence. The government in its hurry to declare Goa ODF appears to have gone overboard by failing to make adequate arrangements for taking action against violations. The new law came into effect only on the eve of Ganesh Chathurthi during which most officials are on vacation. Strict implementation is likely to be adversely affected in the absence of officials.

As many as 4,144 households in 19 village panchayats in the Ponda taluka alone have still not been provided with toilet facilities. The number could be in several thousand if all the houses without toilets in all the 12 talukas of state are accounted for. The state government had promised installation of bio-digester toilets to individual houses where land was available and community toilets for more than one household in villages or streets that lacked space for installation of toilets. The government did not have proper data on the number of households without toilets. The government had first estimated it at 72,000. But last month the government reduced it to 21,000. What methodology the government used to find a much lower number of households without toilets is not known. It is interesting to note though that only two months before the reduction of number Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had said the government required to build 55,000 toilets. Although not a single toilet was constructed in the two months of June and July, the number was reduced to 21,000 with no survey known to have been done to determine the exact number of houses without toilets.

Since the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan was announced the state government announced an ambitious plan to make Goa the first state ODF. As time passed, the state not only missed the deadlines it set for itself but also earned the dubious distinction of being placed last on the list of states that achieved targets of constructing toilets for individual households. Having failed to keep earlier deadlines the government called for applications as late as June 30 from households without toilets, hoping to make toilets available to all by August 31, the latest deadline it set. Accordingly thousands rushed to panchayats seeking toilets and are still waiting for the government-appointed agency Goa Waste Management Corporation to install bio-digester toilets. The government went ahead to declare Goa ODF even before the first of the bio-digester toilets was installed, putting people who were using open spaces to defecate in a quandary how to avoid punishment for defying the law.

Reports are flowing from more and more villages that the civic bodies and panchayats have presented a wrong picture of completing the works of installation of toilets. The government should not have made the declaration of Goa ODF without achieving hundred per cent of the targets it set for itself. There was nothing shameful about extending the deadline. The government had done it several times before. The failure to meet deadlines was largely owing to the botching up of surveys and lack of resolution of attendant issues such as availability of land with the households for construction of a toilet and also the choosing of what kind of toilet a household needs – concrete one or bio. The government could have taken time till October 2 to mark with the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.  Declaring Goa ODF on paper does not help the state accomplish the objective of ending open defecation, nor does it help the needy.

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