Open defecation far from a closed chapter in Bihar

By Imran Khan, IANS,

Patna : It will be 2135 by the time Bihar rids itself of the practice of open defecation, according a government report. Till then millions will have to suffer the indignity of relieving themselves in public due to lack of sanitation facilities.

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International NGO WaterAid, in partnership with Bihar’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), had tied up with Unicef, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme and Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) for a project to rid the state of open defecation by 2012.

But if the union rural development ministry’s department of drinking water and sanitation (DDWS) is to be believed, none of Bihar’s 37 districts is likely to meet the deadline. The report, available on its website, says taking into account the present pace of the programme, Jehanabad district will achieve the target only by 2135.

The DDWS figures on sanitation coverage show that Katihar district is likely to be the first district to be open defecation-free by 2014 – two years after the deadline. Vaishali and Muzaffarpur follow next, likely to achieve the target by by 2015.

The figures show that Begusarai, Rohtas and Patna districts will achieve the target by 2022, 2023 and 2024 respectively. Twelve other districts are expected to achieve the target between 2030-50, and the rest after that.

Central government records show that Bihar is the worst performer in the national Total Sanitation Programme campaign. It says that one out of every six people without access to sanitation in India lives in Bihar.

“The DDWS report is shocking. If it is true, our politicians and bureaucrats, who are ruling the roost for decades, should be ashamed that they failed to provide even toilet facilities to the state’s people,” Raneev, a social activist, told IANS.

Over five and a half years ago, when Chief Minister Nitish Kumar first came to power, his promises of ‘sushanan’ (good governance) had raised hopes of improved public health conditions.

But woman activist Kanchan Bala said the report has exposed all such claims.

“The poor people have been left in the lurch, they will have to live without toilets for years to come. It is only due to the government’s negligence,” she said.

The Bihar government had launched a special scheme named after veteran Socialist leader Rammanohar Lohia in 2007 to speed up construction of toilets, but its implementation has been lagging, to say the least.

Bihar’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) Minister Chandra Mohan Rai said that the department targets to provide toilet facilities to more than 10 million families in the state, but till now, just over three million households have been covered.

According to PHED officials, out of the department’s target of constructing 2,362 community toilets, only 650 have been constructed so far.

Not only that, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has revealed in his latest report that the Bihar government has failed to utilise the huge funds allocated for the Total Sanitation Programme (TSP).

About Rs.5.5 crore advanced for construction of toilets in schools has been lying underutilised since February 2006, according to the CAG report for financial year ended March 31, 2010.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])