Darrang, Assam: Despite the government boasting phenomenal success of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in the country, the news of ‘non-existent toilets’ and ‘ghost beneficiaries’ is now blowing holes into its tall claims.
In Assam, as per the website of SBM, the government’s flagship cleanliness campaign has covered up to 93.65% of the state in terms of individual household latrines (IHHL). However, a quick fact check reveals a different picture altogether.
Just over a 100-km drive from Guwahati, where the politically-charged Bechimari development block of Darrang district is situated, allegations are being made that up to 80% of toilets “constructed” under the much-hyped programme are actually non-existent.
According to official data available on the SBM website, 98.14% of the development block has been covered by SBM. But on ground, hundreds of beneficiaries have either not received any aid or seen any construction of toilets at their homes so far.
Speaking to EastMojo, Rahul Amin, former counselor of Baligaon GP, said, “On several occasions, the number of beneficiaries is inflated by entering a person’s name twice or thrice, and sometimes four times.” Detailing how that is done, Amin said, “In the Excel sheet, it is not possible to enter the same name again and again; so the people involved change the spelling of a beneficiary’s or his or her father’s name.”
Another local activist, on condition of anonymity, said, “Many a times, the son, father, and mother who are living in the same household are shown as different families and toilets sanctioned against them. But in reality, only one toilet is constructed.” Pointing to a massive scam, the activist added, “If Rs 12,000 is sanctioned against one toilet and 70% toilets are not constructed, then a simple math will reveal that, in Bechimari block alone, a scam amounting to almost Rs 16 crore is happening, if a proper investigation is carried out.”
To check the anomaly, this EastMojo reporter travelled to Nagaon village under the Baligaon Gaon Panchayat in Darrang where he met Kadir Ali, 38. Ali said, “In order to get a toilet built in my house, a year ago, I submitted a voter identity card and a photograph.”
When this reporter produced the list of beneficiaries that he had in his possession to him, Ali realised that although his name was there on the list, in reality, there was no toilet at his house.
As per residents, smart ‘contractors’ use a number of tactics to bypass the software designed to track bogus beneficiaries.
“Chabel Ali (family id: 150396106, father’s name: Abul Hussen) and Chabel Ali, (family id: 155987643, father’s name: Abul Hussain) are actually the same person. It was done by just changing the spelling of the father's name. That’s how the scam has been going on,” said another activist, on condition of anonymity.
When EastMojo got in touch with officials from the district administration, ADC NN Nath denied the allegations. He said: “The construction of toilets is done following a baseline survey which was undertaken in 2012 or 2013. As per that survey, our target was 136,000. Obviously, there will be some who are left out, but they will surely be taken care of later. However, it is very unlikely that 80% of the area have been left out.”