Open defecation was as much a curse on society as the caste system. It was an assault on women’s dignity, pride and privacy.
The Union Ministry of Rural Development will enter into an agreement with DRDO for mass production of bio-toilets for 1,000 gram panchayats in the country.
The bio-toilets will ensure health, hygiene and sanitation in these gram panchayats, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh told presspersons in Dharmasthala on Friday.
He earlier told The Hindu that he had asked DRDO, “What is the point in developing Agni when you cannot develop a good toilet for us”. They have taken up the challenge. DRDO had entered into private agreement for mass production.
He said that bio-toilets were in use in Siachen and Jammu and Kashmir. The real weakness of India lies in the fact that 60 per cent of its women do not have toilets. Open defecation was as much a curse on society as the caste system. It was an assault on women’s dignity, pride and privacy. “We must make this a national movement and eliminate open defecation in 10 years,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh said that his Ministry would give Rs. 990 crore for strengthening the gram panchayats through the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. Each gram panchayat would get Rs. 4 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh to build technical and organisational capacities.
Many States, including Maharashtra, ended up promoting only zilla panchayats. Only in Kerala, gram panchayats had been strengthened.
States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh were required to decentralise power in the real sense. Panchayati Raj institutions in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan were doing well.
He, however, agreed that the powers of the institutions in Karnataka had been diluted over the years.
For him gram panchayats were institutions of representation while self-help groups were institutions of mobilisation and participation. Kerala had shown how a perfect marriage between them can transform the country. Kerala would become open defecation-free State by the end of this year.
Introducing a bottom-up approach in planning with gram panchayats as the starting point was up to the State Governments.
On its part, the Union Government was giving a large chunk of funds to gram panchayats in the form of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme benefits. States that demanded more powers from the Union Government were not willing to do the same in the case of panchayats and municipal bodies.
When pointed out that much of funds of gram panchayats was being used to pay electricity bills, Mr. Ramesh said that the States, including Karnataka, were not taking gram panchayats seriously. Stating that the 73 and 74 amendments to the Constitution providing for decentralisation of urban and rural bodies were “beautiful on paper”, he said that their spirit had not been fulfilled.
Mr. Ramesh said that 60 per cent of caste census work had been completed so far. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the two States that were left. He hoped that enumeration would be completed by October. He blamed elections, issues of procurement of hand-held equipment and the “notoriously inefficient public sector understandings such as BHEL” for the “very bad delay” in the completion of the project.