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.
The toilets, they say, were constructed under pressure of targets and deadlines. Reeling under the pressure of payment dues, the sarpanchs in Kanker district of tribal Bastar region have now threatened with the extreme step, a Times of India report said.
In order to meet the targets within the specified time set by government, these sarpanchs had taken construction material, cash and manpower on loan and had promised to pay back as soon as money was sanctioned by district administration.
“My village was declared ODF (open defecation free) 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,” sarpanch Mahar Singh Usendi of Dongarkatta village of Bhanupratappur block was quoted as saying.
“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 added.
Usendi further said that its shameful for them to face this humiliation being a sarpanch.
“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,” he said.
Similar situation is faced by other village heads across Chhattisgarh where they are pressurised to meet the targets of ODF and are not being 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,” said sarpanch Sewakram Gawde of Dongargaon.
On the other hand, Kanker Collector Shammi Abidi said that he spoke to Zila panchayat CEO BL Dehari who confirmed that Rs 1 crore has just been sanctioned from state an the money would soon be released to the sarpanch concerned.