Swachh Bharat a success? Not quite

Reports from across Tamil Nadu talk about the poor quality of toilets under the Swachh Bharat scheme. Above is one such toilet in Dr Ambedkar Narikkurava Colony in Poonamalle, Thiruvallur district . N Vinoth Kumar

The iconic Gandhi glasses were etched on the door of what looked like a wardrobe — a two feet by two feet enclosure. It had no running water although it was a toilet — among the 54 constructed recently as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission at the narikkurava (gypsy tribe) settlement, near Poonamallee, of Thiruvallur district near Chennai. “It is too cramped. We don’t use it,” says Rukmani, a resident.

The toilets were ill-lit and poorly ventilated. Though constructed only six months ago, the walls had developed cracks. The fibre-reinforced polymer doors were broken and there were no septic tanks either. The residents say they continue to use the nearby bushes and ponds although, as per the Swachh Bharat website, Thiruvallur district is open defecation free. Why did Thiruvallur get ODF status? Answer: The target for Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) has been achieved.

The Swachh Bharat Mission will officially complete five years on October 2 — Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. A recent government data claims it has been a huge success. Already, 25 out of 29 states have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF).

Odisha, Goa, Telangana and West Bengal have been holdouts, however. Awareness deficit persists in Odisha, and terrain and infrastructural problems plague Goa. Overall, targets for construction of IHHL have been achieved in some 616 out of more than 700 districts — urban and rural — in the nation.

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