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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Open defecation continues in rural Uttarakhand, sensitisation must for locals, say activists

dehradun Updated: Oct 28, 2017 20:45 IST
Neha Pant
Neha Pant
Hindustan Times
A view of  Bhitri village in Uttarkashi district where there are not  sufficient toilets for villagers.
A view of Bhitri village in Uttarkashi district where there are not sufficient toilets for villagers. (HT Photo.)

The Uttarakhand government has set the target of making urban areas open defecation free (ODF) by March 2018 after the rural areas got the coveted tag earlier this year.

On June 22, the rural belt of Uttarakhand was declared ODF – the fourth state in India to achieve this feat after Kerala, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh – in the presence of Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar. According to the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), around 15.14 lakh houses have toilets in rural areas. As many as 42,944 of them got access to sanitation in this ongoing fiscal.

But activists say the practice of open defecation continues in many parts of the state and a lot remains to be done before the ODF tag can truly be celebrated. Uttarakhand has 13 districts, 95 blocks, 7,950 gram panchayats and 16,674 villages.

Social activist Ratan Aswal says the situation is the most concerning in Uttarkashi district. “There are many villages in areas such as Mori, Purola, Badkot and Dunda which are yet to be fully covered, and so is in some parts of Ghat and Tharali tehsils in Chamoli district,” says Aswal, who closely worked at the grassroot-level in the Garhwal hills.

There are some pockets where villagers either resist construction of toilets or are hesitant to use them due to certain dogmas, he says. “For such areas, the government agencies will have to make persistent efforts to persuade villagers to use toilets. There’s also the issue of water supply or lack of water connections in toilets in many hilly areas. The concept of ODF cannot be truly realised without fixing them.”

Even tourists face some ‘awkward moments’ during their visit to Uttarakhand. “I recently visited Rishikesh where I saw some people defecating near the Ganga at a nearby village…What’s the rush to declare ODF when what really needs to be done is sensitising the locals?” said Paritosh Singh, a Delhi-based engineer who visited the holy cities of Rishikesh and Haridwar last month with his family.

Madan Kaushik, cabinet minister and official spokesperson of the state government, said that officials have been asked to “work on war footing” for achieving the ODF target. “District magistrates have been made the nodal officers for monitoring the progress of ODF targets. We have set December 31 as the deadline for all urban local bodies and November 30 (deadline) for the six municipal corporations of the state to be turned into ODF,” Kaushik said.

The minister said that third party evaluation will be carried out by the government to ensure that work under the ODF project was duly implemented on ground. “Also, installment of grants (issued to local bodies under the state finance commission) will be held back for those (local bodies) which fail to meet the ODF targets on time,” Kaushik said.

First Published: Oct 28, 2017 20:45 IST