Faced with debt traps and threats from material suppliers and creditors for dues they owe on account of construction of toilets under Prime Minister Nardendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission, village heads (sarpanch) of 11 villages in Chhattisgarh have now threatened to commit suicide if the district administration fails to release their payment within a month’s time.
Amid mounting pressure to construct toilets within set target and deadlines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Swachh Bharat Mission (SMB) has landed many village sarpanches in Chhattisgarh into debt trap and they are now facing threats from material suppliers and loan sharks. Driven to desperation, sarpanches of eleven villages in Kanker district of tribal Bastar region have threatened to commit suicide if their payment is not released within a month.
In order to meet the targets set by government officials, these sarpanch had managed everything on loan including construction material, cash and manpower with a promise to pay back once they get the amount sanctioned from district administration. While their villages have been declared open-defecation-free (ODF) four-five months back, it has become impossible for many of them to step out of the house due to shame.
Talking to TOI, sarpanch Mahar Singh Usendi of Dongarkatta village of Bhanupratappur block in Kanker said, “My village was declared ODF on April 7 and construction of 299 toilets were approved by administration, I was told by Janpad CEO that it was mandatory for each house to have a toilet. When I found there were 49 additional houses that need toilets, I was told to arrange raw material for the same and payments would be made later. Now, I am burdened with loan of Rs 23 lakh for past one year.”
“I am fed up as every day labourers, traders and suppliers who have lent me money, raw material and manpower are chasing me. Eleven sarpanchs in this block are facing the same predicament. Do we have any other option but to commit suicide if we don’t get money to pay off loans?”, he asked.
Usendi said “It’s a shame for a sarpanch to face this humiliation. When we approach Janpad and Zila panchayat, they say ‘jab tak upar se paisa nahi ayega, we can’t transfer any amount to your account.’ Moreover, the toilets are made in so much hurry, they are already getting damaged and villagers are still defecating in fields,” Usendi said.
Similar is the story of sarpanch of Bhaisakanhari, Dongargaon, Tilhathi, Sewari, Kacchhe, Atulkhar villages.
Another sarpanch Sewakram Gawde of Dongargaon said similar situation is being faced by most of the villages across Chhattisgarh where sarpanchs were pressurized to achieve the targets of ODF and haven’t been paid.
“Our worry is that there is no written approval given for constructing additional toilets that we had built under our risk. If someone on higher ranks gets transferred we would be in deep trouble. We are anyway not left with any other option than ending lives. I am burdened with loan of Rs 37.16 lakh,” Gawde said.
Another sarpanch said that Modi’s ambitious Swachch Bharat brought excitement amongst us as well but now we feel it was a mistake getting swayed away with the idea.
Janpad Panchayat Chief Executive officer (CEO) BL Dehari has beren maintaining that he too was waiting for sanction of money from Central government.
When contacted, Kanker collector Shammi Abidi said, “Although no sarpanch has yet approached me directly, but I just spoke to Zila panchayat CEO, who confirmed that Rs 1 crore has just been sanctioned from state and the money would soon be released to the sarpanch concerned. I also asked him to visit the villages and find out the orders given for constructing toilets and how much money has been utilized.
“The CEO will counsel them and I would also ensure that no one takes any extreme step. Their problems will be addressed”, she added.