Meerut: Even as the central government claims to have clamped down on corruption, the review of the on-ground implementation of activities under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, has highlighted glaring irregularities.
As part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the flagship scheme of Narendra Modi government, toilets were supposed to be constructed in people's houses in villages where none existed earlier and then the villages were supposed to be declared Open Defecation Free (ODF).
But a probe by senior district level officials of Saharanpur, Meerut, Bulandshahr and other districts in western Uttar Pradesh, found that the nexus of officials on the ground and village head was involved in cases of corruption in the project related to the construction of toilets in several districts of western Uttar Pradesh.
Investigations by development officers in various districts have shown that many places in Meerut, Saharanpur, Bulandshahr and other districts toilets were constructed only on paper. In some cases, local officials and village heads showed extreme hurry in declaring village Open Defecation Free (ODF). Even though the construction of the toilets was not complete, the villages were declared ODF.
The probe by the then chief development officer of Saharanpur Deepak Meena found that village heads were involved in corruption in the implementation of ODF project. Some of the places where corruption was found in the ODF project include villages like Chhapredi, Behrampur, Nasrullagarh, Hajipur, Nagla Naseerabad and Dhaula Hedi. The village heads of these villages claimed the money for construction work even without constructing any toilet on the ground. The district officials have sent recovery notices to village heads in order to recover the money taken by them. The probe report by Mr Meena found violations of rules in the implementation of ODF project. In some places construction work was sub-standard and at some places, no toilet existed on the ground. However, due to the fear of government action, in some villages toilets were constructed after the CDO report was made public.
According to District Public Relations Officer of Saharanpur Satish Kumar, at least thirty-one villages are being probed for corruption and other irregularities.
Similar cases of corruption have also surfaced in Meerut. Angry with the sub-standard material being used in the construction of toilets in Racchauti village of Machhara block, the Divisional Commissioner of Meerut, Dr. Prabhat Kumar ordered that an FIR be registered against all the officials associated with the project including the village head, village panchayat officer, assistant development officer of the panchayat and block development officer. The block development officer and assistant development officer of the panchayat were earlier suspended after an allegation of corruption had surfaced against them last month.
The village and block level officers in nexus with the village head had declared the Racchauti village to be ODF. They had claimed that 444 toilets had been constructed. But the official probe highlighted that only 80 toilets of the total 444 were constructed. Construction work in other 83 toilets, was still going on. Also, sub-standard quality materials had been used in the construction of the 80 toilets. Work had not even started in the rest of the 281 toilets.
Likewise, allegations of corruption and irregularities were reported from several villages of Bulandshahr district as well. About 192 villages in the district have been declared ODF. But the complaints by villagers have highlighted corruption and extreme hurry in declaring villages Open Defecation Free without completion of the project work. Take Kishanpur village of Sikandarabad sub-division for instance.
According to the probe report, not even half of the villagers have toilets at their homes and despite that the officials declared the village to be Open Defecation Free. So much so that people were forced to defecate in open even as the village was declared ODF on paper. The District Public Relation Officer Amarjeet Singh told NewsClick that a report has been asked from the panchayat level officials who had declared the village to be ODF.
“Action will certainly be taken against the responsible officials if the allegation of the villagers, was found to be true,” Singh said.
Similarly, the gram panchayat adhikari ( village panchayat officer) of Chingrawali Sherpal Singh was suspended after complaints from the villagers came that he had done corruption and irregularities in the implementation of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan projects of ODF in the Chingrawali panchayat. The probe had highlighted that he had gotten substandard materials used in the construction of the toilets, and had taken money in the name of deceased villagers. He had also taken money twice from the government for the construction of the toilets. A team of three administrative officers was constituted to probe Sherpal Singh's conduct.
Such incidents, which as the trend suggest, seem to be the tip of the iceberg, highlight that the government machinery seems to be in the hurry to declare the villages Open Defecation Free in order to make the Modi's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan successful even as the villagers on the ground are forced to defecate in open after toilets in their homes were built only on paper.