youngest ministry tasked to end open defecation
India's youngest ministry has the
enormous task of ridding rural areas of open defecation and unsafe
drinking water with about 245 million people in the country still
without access to sanitation facilities and nearly 76 million
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.
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
"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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)