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Toilet scam leaps out of closet

- Govt and census figures show disparity of 3.5 crore latrines

New Delhi, April 17: If this doesn’t raise a national stink, little else will.

Around 3.5 crore toilets are missing in India, if official statistics are not meant to be flushed down the drain.

The Union rural development ministry claims its Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) has delivered more than 8.71 crore latrines to households across villages over the past decade. But household data from the population census shows that only around 5.16 crore households had latrines in 2011. (See chart)

Such a wide gap need not be a proverbial slip but anything is possible in a country where industrial production had been miscalculated by as many as 5 percentage points a few months ago.

Toilets are missing from Bengal, too. The sanitation campaign figure for Bengal was 80.7 lakh, 16.6 lakh more than the census figure of 64.1 lakh. The state was sixth on the list of those where the discrepancy was high.

Uttar Pradesh was on the top, with over 1.16 crore missing toilets.

The rural development ministry had launched the sanitation campaign in 1999 under which Rs 2,200 was to be provided to every household below the poverty line to build a latrine. Installing a toilet costs about Rs 2,500 and the households were expected to bear the balance.

The plan was intended to make India free of open defecation by 2017.

The ministry claims that by erecting 8.71 crore latrines, it has achieved 70 per cent of the sanitation campaign’s target of 12.5 crore. But the census data challenges the claim.

“This discrepancy in the number of latrines hints at over-reporting and pilferage in the implementation of the scheme,” said Naresh Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council.

“The actual number of missing latrines is much higher than 35 million because when the TSC began in 1999, many households would already have had latrines,” Saxena said.

Saxena also said many villages projected to have complete sanitation facilities and accorded the Nirmal Gram Puraskar certification did not have latrines in even 50 per cent homes.

Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who last year said open defecation was a blot and a shame, admitted that the TSC data projected an inflated picture on rural sanitation.

“I believe the census data more than the TSC data. The TSC data is reported by state governments based on financial expenditure. This is unreliable,” he added.

Sources said calculations of state governments were based on how much money had been released and no inspections were usually carried out to verify if the intended beneficiaries had spent the amount for the purpose it had been given.

Till April 2011, the Centre’s total expenditure on the campaign was Rs 19,626.43 crore. The scheme is being implemented in 607 districts across the country. State governments give a matching grant.

Ramesh said all the flagship schemes of his ministry would be subjected to a performance audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which is now auditing the rural job guarantee programme.

The census findings come at a time the Union budget has raised the allocation for sanitation and drinking water to Rs 14,000 crore, up from Rs 11,000 crore last year, an increase of 30 per cent.