Puducherry

Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi takes back order linking rice to toilets

Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi.   | Photo Credit: S.S. KUMAR

Within hours of issuing a controversial direction on Saturday to withhold distribution of free rice to villages that failed to implement the Swachh Bharat Mission, Puducherry Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi announced that she had withdrawn the decision.

Prompted by “anguish” at the poor sanitary conditions she came across during a weekend inspection of Mannadipet village, Ms. Bedi had set a May 31 deadline for villages to get their acts together on the rural sanitation and hygiene fronts to continue to receive free rice rations.

She had written to Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy, contending that making access to free rice contingent on villages becoming Open Defecation Free and maintaining cleanliness would ensure that the local communities shouldered the onus of turning the centrally-driven Swachh Bharat Grameen mission into a reality.

“As such, in order to inculcate a sense of responsibility amongst the local community, we require to cast a duty upon the local community for maintenance of their localities clean and healthy. The rice distribution shall, therefore, be made conditional to the certification that the village is open defecation free and free of strewn garbage and plastics. Accordingly, I have issued directions to the Director of Civil Supplies. A notice to the villages be given for a period of four weeks till May 31 to make the villages clean,” Ms. Bedi wrote to the Chief Minister.

However, even as the decision attracted flak from across the political spectrum including the Congress, AIADMK and the CPM in Puducherry — with the CPM even declaring a protest in front of the Raj Nivas on April 30 — as well as a barrage of criticism on social media, Ms. Bedi later issued a “clarification in view of misreading of the intent of my improving the living conditions of the poor in rural areas.”

Ms. Bedi stated that the intention of her direction in linking rural Open Defecation and cleanliness with free rice distribution was not to deny any poor persons of their entitlement, “since I have already sanctioned and directed to provide quality food grains to needy families. And the department is already in the process of procurement and distribution.”

She added that the communication was “an expression of my serious intent and concern about addressing the root causes of health hazards in rural areas and compel performance of community and administrative leadership.”

“To avoid misreading of this intention and in view of the forthcoming commitment made by the UT Government that villages in Puducherry will achieve ODF by June end, I am happy to give them some more time. Therefore I am withholding my earlier communication,” the Lt. Governor said.

She also made an assurance that “the poor and needy families will be provided their entitlement as per the law made by Central Government and rules framed by UT Government”.

 

‘Onus on communities to clean up’

“In order to inculcate a sense of responsibility amongst the local community, we require to cast a duty upon the local community for maintenance of their localities clean and healthy. The rice distribution shall, therefore, be made conditional to the certification that the village is open defecation free and free of strewn garbage and plastics. Accordingly, I have issued directions to the Director of Civil Supplies. A notice to the villages be given for a period of four weeks till May 31 to make the villages clean,” Ms. Bedi’s letter said.

Certification necessary

The Lt. Governor proposed that the certification that the villages are clean and free of strewn garbage would be given jointly by the MLA of the constituency and the Commissioner of the Commune Panchayat concerned, only after which the distribution (of free rice) would be made.

“This action, will inculcate a sense of responsibility/duty amongst our people and will hasten our objective of Swachh Gramin Union Territory,” Ms. Bedi said.

In an earlier message to media, Ms. Bedi had lamented that during the last two years, “I have not seen local representatives and concerned public officials determined to make rural Puducherry clean within a time frame. I am sorry, this cannot go on...”.

According to Ms. Bedi, the visit to Mannadipet village was the 155th weekend visit of the Team Raj Nivas over the last two years. “Yet we have not transformed in proportion to the effort and energy that has gone into [the visits].”

‘No initiative’

“In all our rural visits we have seen community leaders putting forth various demands on behalf of the people, but I have never seen any of them impatient at cleaning up the village in their constituency. Which is the cause of several diseases also in the village through contamination of water,” she noted.

Till such time villages are certified to be ODF status and free of garbage and plastics, “the free rice supplies will be kept on hold and in safe storage. It shall be distributed to the beneficiaries on the village being certified clean.”

Ms. Bedi also urged the NABARD to support only those NGOs who have in-built waste management as an integral part of their training programmes.

The Lt. Governor’s decision sparked off a political and social media storm. The CPM has said it will organise a protest in front of the Raj Nivas on April 30. On Twitter, messages flaying the move vastly outnumbered supportive tweets on Ms. Bedi’s handle.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 6:32:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/kiran-bedi-bedi-takes-back-order-linking-rice-to-toilets/article23711783.ece

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