In spite of the toilets provided by the Government as a part of the rural housing scheme, the villagers of Kolli hills seem to prefer open defecation – an age old practice which has poor implications on their health and sanitation.
In order to abolish the practice of open defecation and hence uplift the hygiene of people living in rural areas, the Central Government made the construction of toilets mandatory under its rural housing scheme, Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY), last year.
Under this scheme, villagers can avail the allotted funds (Rs 1 lakh) only if their newly constructed house meets the required conditions, of which a toilet is a significant one. Officials are appointed to conduct audits and order changes if the house does not meet the IAY guidelines.
Bowed down by debts and low income, the villagers adopt wicked practices to retain the little money they are given by the Government. All of them wait until the audits are complete. Once the money gets transferred to their accounts, they deconstruct the toilets to convert them into store rooms and the like.
However, the scarce income is a secondary issue according to Dr. R. Jagannathan, Namakkal Collector, who said, “For them (villagers), defecating in the open is a social activity. They go as a group to the forests for their morning ablutions. It’s all about their mindset.”
Aiyyasamy, a villager from Sellipatti, who has converted his toilet into a store room for his field produce, said, “This whole forest is my toilet. If suddenly someone asks me to defecate in a 5*5 space, I can’t. I feel claustrophobic.”
According to Venkat, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) employee, the inclusion of toilets under the scheme has come with little thought. “Is a building enough? Where are the water pipelines? Where is the sewage line? Why is the government not taking care of all this?” he questions.
The responsibility of the Government seems to end with the construction of a toilet. The sewage lines and water pumps which are required to make it usable remain missing. The fact that the amount is disbursed without ensuring these facilities is simply inexplicable.
A change in policy that would ensure the provision of sewage/water lines before crediting the money; frequent audits; and more importantly, awareness campaigns for the villagers against the ill effects of open defecation would help better the situation of the ‘missing toilets’ in Kolli.
(With contributions from Vignesh Radhakrishnan)