The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Maharashtra government is at loggerheads with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) over the civic body’s claim that Mumbai became open-defecation free under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat mission.
Even as the BMC certified that the city is open-defecation free, and got a Union government-affiliated agency — the quality council of India (QCI) — to back its claim, the state government was hesitant to validate its assertion.
“Our validation team surveyed each ward in the city, and except for a handful, there were incidents of open defecation in several pockets. If we certify that the city open-defecation free, despite knowing that there are people defecating in the open, it will hurt the project’s credibility,” said an official from the state government, who did not wish to be identified.
The state’s validation team comprised officials and bureaucrats from across municipal corporations in Maharashtra, as well as non-government organisations. The team conducted its survey in January, which was when the BMC approached the QCI.
The BMC declared that Mumbai was open-defecation free in December last year. However, it said it would not take responsibility for people defecating on lands owned by other government agencies such as the railways, Mumbai Port Trust, defense land, and Aarey Colony in Goregaon.
Maharashtra has a three-tier verification process to decide whether a town is open-defecation free. First, the urban local body inspects the city, followed by an audit conducted by the collector, and finally, the state. The cities and towns then approach the Union government, seeking a certification declaring them as open-defecation free under the Swachh Bharat mission.
“The QCI team found a few shortcomings during its first inspection. We filled these gaps and asked them for a re-assessment. After the re-assessment, the agency was satisfied that the BMC had made every effort possible to rid Mumbai of open defecation and to build toilets. It was confident that the city could be declared open-defecation free,” a BMC official, who did not wish to be identified.
“I wish state government officials would read the rules,” said BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta.He said the Union government has well laid out guidelines for any city to be declared open-defecation free. These involve identifying spots where people usually defecate, providing adequate toilets and creating a mechanism to prevent open defecation by warning and fining those who engage in this activity.
“The BMC spent the whole of last year building toilets. We even provided temporary toilets to residents while permanent ones were being built. Clean-up marshals were engaged to warn those defecating in the open,” Mehta said. Celebrities such as Salman Khan were engaged to create awareness about the issue.
“Despite all this, there are still some people who defecate in the open. The Union government understands this,” he said.He added that the Union government also has a provision to follow up on the matter after six months.
The state, however, maintains that simply building enough toilets does not qualify a city as free of open defecation. It states that the actual number of instances of open defecation should be zero for Mumbai to qualify.