Shimla, Oct. 15, 2013: At a time when Congress and BJP are playing politics on the issue of "toilets and temples," Himachal Pradesh is slowly heading towards achieving the goal of total sanitation by ensuring that every household in the state has toilet facility. With the construction of 2.5 lakh toilets in the coming days, this small hill state can claim to be open defecation free (ODF), sources said.
Union minister for rural development, Jairam Ramesh, had first sparked a controversy, stating that toilets are important than temples, claiming that 64% Indians defecate in the open. Recently, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi fueled the controversy once again, echoing the Union minister's statement.
Of the 3,243 panchayats in the state, 1,011 panchayats have already received Nirmal Gram Panchayat award from Union government after achieving total sanitation target, while 695 more panchayats have applied for the award this year. Himachal Pradesh has 20,690 villages, around 90% of which are claimed to be free of open defecation.
Himachal minister for rural development and panchayati raj, Anil Sharma, said that total sanitation target has almost been achieved and panchayats not covered under the programme yet would be covered shortly. "In the coming days, special attention would be paid to cover remote and tribal areas of the state, so as to achieve the 100% target," he added.
Robin George, a senior official from department of rural development, said that in 2011, all the gram panchayats had passed resolutions claiming to be free of open defecation, but after new guidelines from the Union government, issued in 2012, a fresh survey was conducted. "As more categories were added in the new guidelines, we found some panchayats not fulfilling the criteria. Our baseline survey has revealed that 90% panchayats have been covered under total sanitation programme," he added.
Another official from rural development department said that with the construction of 2.5 lakh toilets, the hill state would achieve total sanitation. "In the urban areas of the state, every household has a toilet, but the problem is with migrant population, for whom adequate toilets need to be constructed, as they still resort to open defecation," he added.
The seriousness of rural population in having neat and clean environment becomes evident from the fact that last year, a panachayat in Kangra had refused to renew ration cards of people not having toilet in their houses. As a few families under Muheen panchayat of Pragpur block in Kangra district never bothered about constructing toilets and stop open defecation, the village panchayat, headed by a female pradhan (president), Saneh Parmar, had decided to act tough by not renewing the ration cards of such families, while confiscating their old ration cards.
Through a notification issued on April 20, 2011, Himachal Pradesh government had set a target to achieve "Nirmal Himachal" goal by providing safe drinking water, personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness in rural areas of the state. For the sustainability of sanitation campaign, a gram panchayat-specific action plan for effective solid and liquid waste management was notified. However, even after two years, the "Nirmal Himachal" goal is still a distant dream as open defecation problem continues in many parts of rural areas, sources said.
During the previous BJP regime, Udaipur town of Lahaul-Spiti district was selected under "Har Gaon Ki Kahani" programme, as this major tourist attraction was plagued by open defecation problem, as neither the panchayat nor elected representatives from the area ever bothered to construct adequate toilets for public. "A couple of toilets, constructed a few years back, were closed immediately after their opening due to lack of maintenance, forcing people to use open space," said Rajesh Baba, a Udaipur resident. (Source: Anand Bodh, TNN)