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No power if you go in the open, SDO tells villagers

Frustrated by villagers who persistently defecated in the open and ruined the chances of meeting the Open Defecation Free (ODF) targets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), a Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district issued an order to snap electricity connections to all households that failed to build toilets within 15 days. The order was swiftly voided after it caused an outrage.

The order was issued over the weekend by Jahazpur SDO Kartar Singh, who found that only 19% of the villagers at Gangithala had built toilets. The majority of them continued to relieve themselves under the open sky despite repeated efforts to dissuade them from doing so. “If the villagers do not construct toilets in their houses within 15 days, their electricity connections will be cut off,” stated the SDO’s order.

On Sunday, alert district officials spotted six persons in Jahazpur tehsil defecating in the open and promptly arrested them. The defiant six, belonging to Gangithala and Piplund villages, were charged with disrupting peace under Section 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code and released on bail by the evening.

The arrest and the SDO’s order in close succession did not go down well with the villagers. Faced with a backlash, Bhilwara Collector Muktanand Agarwal revoked the SDO’s order and clarified that the administration would not take punitive action to meet the ODF village targets under the SBA. “We will only motivate the people to not defecate in the open,” he said.

However, the six who were kept in police custody for a day were released only after they agreed to build toilets in their homes within 15 days and use them every day. The administration has maintained that they were arrested only because they resisted the ODF drive and refused to build toilets and desist from defecating in their village’s fields and grounds.

The Congress MLA from Jahazpur, Dhiraj Gujjar, has described the administration's actions as “arbitrary and unlawful”. “These villages do not even get proper drinking water supply. How will the villagers maintain toilets in their home? Those who have built toilets are still waiting for reimbursement from the government,” Mr. Gujjar told The Hindu.

Mr. Gujjar added that while nobody in Bhilwara district was against the ODF drive, there should be no coercion involved in getting people to build toilets. “Let the government first provide infrastructure. How could they justify arresting innocent villagers under preventive detention provisions? What offence were they going to commit?” he asked. According to official figures, so far only 10 of the 38 village panchayats in the Jahazpur sub-division have been declared as ‘open defecation-free’.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 2:01:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-power-if-you-go-in-the-open-sdo-tells-villagers/article19535431.ece

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