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No sewerage system. Just a squatting platform connected to a covered 4-foot single pit, surrounded by three walls with no doors or ceiling. This is a toilet in Vishnupur Khurd village of Maharajganj district of Uttar Pradesh built with the incentive received under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC).

It is not the only toilet with such a design. There are almost 50 beneficiaries who have similar unusable toilets outside their homes, built under the scheme. Earlier this year, the village administration handpicked these below-poverty-line (BPL) families and gave them Rs. 2200 under the TSC to construct toilets in their homes. The families had to add the additional amount required to build the toilet.

It is a mystery why all the families landed up with toilets of the same design when they are free to construct their own. The bottom line, however, is that majority of the family members are forced to continue to defecate in the open, despite a TSC toilet.

According to Sanandan Pandey, village pradhan Gayatri Devi’s son, there are no guidelines specifying the design or the amount to be contributed by the beneficiary. Neither Mr Pandey nor the District Panchayati Raj officer Prabhakar Singh are able to confirm if this identical toilet design is ‘approved’ by any government agency or whether there is any standardisation of the toilet design at all.

Sanitation volunteers and villagers pointed out that the biggest flaws in the design are the depth of the pit, which is very shallow, and lack of door and roof. This forces the family members to continue to defecate in the open. Sometimes families pool their own resources to build a door, while others get both a door and a roof in addition to a deeper pit. Most, however, cannot afford to make these changes and the toilet falls into disuse.

"It’s not just the depth or the absence of doors and ceiling. Many a times the lid gets damaged or stolen and this happens frequently. Arranging for a new cover is very difficult for the poor families and it takes a lot of time. This is worse than defecating in the open because the waste is lying uncovered at your backyard," says Dr Brahmanand Chaturvedi, a college Professor in Patna who is also an advisor to Sulabh International, a voluntary organisation working in the field of sanitation.

Most of the 350 families in the village do not have proper toilet facilities. The villagers put the figure of the total number of houses with proper toilets at around 8 to10. Sulabh recently constructed a modern toilet in the village in the house of Priyanka Bharti – the woman whose struggle for proper sanitation facilities at her in-laws residence was highlighted recently in the media.

Sulabh, which claims it has provided 1.2 million toilets to poor rural Indians, admits that the toilet built for Priyanka and her new family as a reward for the guts she showed, costs over $1,000 (approx Rs 55,000) but says that more basic designs can be constructed for well under $30 (approx Rs 1700). For Priyanka Bharti, the organisation constructed a toilet, a separate bathroom, a room for food grains, and another for fire wood. Sulabh recently took a group of journalists to take a look at the construction.

Both Mr Pandey and Mr Singh attribute the problem in the village to the lack of design awareness among the locals and acknowledge the incentive amount of Rs 2200 (1500 from the Centre and 700 from the State government) is too less for anyone to construct a proper toilet. Mr Pandey explains how the villagers got a raw deal as the funds were released in the month of February and in the very next month (March) the Central Government’s share was raised to Rs. 3200 and the State’s to Rs. 1400 taking the cumulative figure to Rs. 4600.

The sanitation challenges of the village, however, extend beyond the design of toilets. The villagers, albeit acknowledging the hazards of open defecation, link most of their problems to their poverty and inaction by the people’s representatives. According to Uttar Pradesh’s development projections, it was to become an open defecation free (ODF) State by the end of Eleventh Five Year Plan (March 2012), a target it has clearly missed.