In an embarrassing move, Tamil Nadu’s Rural Development department had come up with an agenda that the Gram Sabhas should read out the names of the villagers who are defecating in the open despite having individual toilets in their houses.
However, most of the villages in the state did not read out the names in their Gram Sabha meetings.
Usually, a couple of days before the Gram Sabha meeting, the rural development department would send an agenda that mentions the issues that should be discussed during the meeting.
It is to be noted that, even after three years in power, the current government, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has not conducted local body elections till now.
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Many judicial interventions later made the government conduct the elections as early as possible.
However, in these three years, Gram Sabha meetings were held four times in a year on particular days like the Republic Day (January 26), May Day (May 1), Independence Day (August 15) and Gandhi Jayanthi (October 2) with the help of civil societies. The Gram Sabha meetings scheduled for May 1 were not held since Lok Sabha elections were on and the model code of conduct was in place. The meeting was held on a later date.
In the past, the government has stressed the importance of sanitation and the benefits of using toilets. But this year, before the last Gram Sabha meeting, the department had sent an agenda asking the village leaders who head the meetings to read out the names of the villagers who are not using toilets, despite having one in their respective houses. This move came in accordance with the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi and the ‘100 percent open-defecation free’ verve under the Swachh Bharat campaign.
Since there are no elected representatives at the panchayat levels, many of the village leaders did not pay heed to the agenda and thought that the agenda will be the same as it was in the past.
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According to Senthil Arumugam, state general secretary, Satta Panchayat Iyakkam, “Most of the time, the block development officers and other village leaders who head the meetings, come to the Gram Sabha meetings with a ready-made resolution. During the meeting, they just read out the resolutions and wind up the meeting.”
“Reading out the names of the defaulters will affect their dignity and it will create disputes among the villagers,” he added. “These kinds of agenda are being created by the officers who are in the city and who do not have any knowledge about the village dynamics,” Senthil stressed.
A former panchayat president of Kuthambakkam village, R Elango, said that before coming up with any kind of deterrent in this issue, the government must ensure whether it has done its work adequately, such as proper construction of toilets with ventilation and other facilities.
“Instead of reading out the names, the village leaders can meet the defaulters in person and inspect the toilets to find out any problems with the usage,” he said.