An entire village comprising 50-odd families in Malda district has been deprived of basic sanitation facilities and the villagers have accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of not allowing the Centre’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan project in Bengal. They, especially women and young girls, wanted Banerjee to allow the Centre’s project in the state so that they would not have to face the plight of defecating in the open.
Mina Benia and her young daughter Kiran are to wake up before dawn and walk more than 400 m to go to a nearby forest every morning. ‘’It is humiliating. In monsoon, we have no option left other than walking in the rain risking snake-bite,’’ said Mina, a resident of Bhatra village.The plight of newly married Arati Murmu is no way different. “I do not know the area well. My husband goes to other states for jobs. When he is not here, I am to go alone. I cannot express you in words how scary it is,’’ she said.
Arati has seen how life of her neighbour Malati Murmu has been changed. Her husband spent `8,000 and constructed a toilet.‘’I feel ashamed to go out in the fields to relieve myself during the daytime,’’ said the homemaker in her late 20s. “Had Mamata Banerjee allowed the Centre’s project in Bengal, our plight would have been over.’’
In August 2011, Banerjee said her state had already launched its own cleanliness campaign before Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. “We are the first one in the country having undertaken such a campaign,’’ she had said in a news conference. The state government did not allocate additional fund for the initiative named Sabar Souchagar (Toilets for all) under ‘Mission Nirmal Bangla’. Available funds from the Centre’s scheme like NREGA, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) were pooled together.
The initiative proved futile, alleged a section of villagers in Malda. In South Bhatra village four basements with a sanitary pan were constructed three years ago but have been lying unused as none of it has side-walls.“How can I use it? It is on my courtyard and using it is more humiliating than going to the fields,’’ said Barki Hansda in her 70s. “The panchayat representatives constructed the basement and looted the money allocated for building up a complete toilet.’’