Water shortage flushes down 'open defecation free' tag

The state government is all set to engage community radio service to spread the message on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in rural interiors, even as confusion prevails over its data on the issue of the open defecation-free status of its villages.

As per the data on the Swachh Bharat Mission website, the state government has said that 27044 villages in Karnataka are open defecation- free (ODF).

However, officials said the status of open defecation-free may have to be reviewed in most of the places. 

“It is true that thousands of toilets have been built over the last five years but it is an open secret that many them are not used,” said the official.

“The reason is beyond people’s refusal to give up their old habit of open defecation. In many villages, there are practical problems to access a toilet.”

The official said that about 35 lakh toilets were constructed in the state since October 2014.

He said the meticulous data maintained for construction work cannot reveal the other side. 

“Crores of rupees have been spent. At some places, villagers did start using a toilet. But lack of independent source of water is a major factor that prevents the use of toilets. In 2000 villages, residents depend on water brought in tankers or pumped from borewells one or two km away,” he said.

The official said it would be fit to declare about 10,000 villages as ‘villages with toilets’. “In the first quarter of 2019, the government drilled 10,000 borewells in 6,000 GPs. Compare this with the 4,000 borewells in a similar number of panchayats for the same quarter in 2018 and the problem will be evident. There is simply no water,” he said.

A senior official said the department has drawn up solid and liquid waste management bylaws which will empower gram panchayats to generate revenue to keep the villages clean. “The transition will take time. Maybe another five years,” he said. The government has plans to take corrective steps during he second-level verification of the ODF status. “There are cases where the toilets have never been used once they are built. They remain purely as part of statistics. Water is the big challenge and we are looking at ways to fix it,” he said.

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