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Mumbai: In the run-up to the 2019 general election when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre seeks re-election, FactChecker is evaluating flagship government programmes.

We began the series in May 2018 with a three-part evaluation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)--the world’s make-work programme. Then, in November 2019, we evaluated the government’s rural electrification programme. This was followed by a three-part series tracking the progress on the goal to make the country open defecation-free by October 2, 2019--the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

In the coming weeks, we will evaluate the government’s programmes on agriculture (irrigation, crop insurance and soil health cards), skilling, insurance and pension schemes, rural and urban housing, smart cities, education of the girl child, Jan Dhan Yojana and digital India, Namami Gange or cleaning the Ganga and MUDRA Yojana.

Here is a quick round-up of the series thus far:

MGNREGS: Work is scarce, payments delayed--and how Kerala’s women are making the most of the programme

MGNREGS, India’s 12-year-old rural jobs programme, is a safety net for millions who do not have a regular source of livelihood. It has 110 million active workers, and the wages it pays are an important source of income in Indian villages at a time when the farm sector is in crisis, more villagers are working as farm labour than as cultivators, and non-farm jobs are not enough to accommodate the large number of people entering the labour force.

Between 2012-13 and 2017-18, no more than 10% of households got 100 days of employment each fiscal year, defeating the professed objective of enhancing livelihood security in rural areas, IndiaSpend reported in the first part of the series on May 4, 2018.

In 2017-18, the households provided 100 days of employment fell further by four percentage points to 6%, compared with 2012-13, as per figures available on April 28, 2018.

When work is available--even for short periods--payment delays mar the effectiveness of the programme. At the end of April 2018, 57% of wages due to workers were unpaid, as per government data, IndiaSpend reported in the second part of the series on May 5, 2018.

Despite these issues, the programme changed the lives of women in Kerala, as IndiaSpend reported in the concluding part of the series on May 7, 2018.

Women’s participation in MGNREGS increased by nine percentage points to 57% between 2008-09 and 2016-17. On average across India, 52% of MGNREGS workers during this period were women. However, Kerala recorded 90% women’s participation in the scheme during the same period.

IndiaSpend traveled to Kerala to find out why, and discovered that the state’s poverty eradication programme, Kudumbashree, played an enabling role. By helping women find a place in the labour force, MGNREGS has instilled a sense of financial and social security among them.

Rural electrification: The 100% claim and the reality on the ground

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on April 29, 2018, declared that India has electrified 100% of its 600,000-plus villages, the last village being Leisang in Manipur in north-eastern India.

Soon after, an internal report by the union rural development ministry revealed that the prime minister’s claim was incorrect and about 5,000 villages were yet to be electrified, The New Indian Express reported on July 8, 2018. “It has been observed that a certain percentage of villages in almost every state have not been provided with electricity,” the report was quoted as saying. A separate 2018 survey of 360,000 villages by the central rural development ministry found more than 14,700 villages without electricity for domestic use.

For the first part of the series, FactChecker visited villages in Uttar Pradesh’s (UP’s) Chitrakoot district--amongst the country’s most backward--to investigate the 100% electrification claim.

In Goiya Khurd village, electricity meters were installed in households but electric poles were yet to reach. In Khichari village--marked as having 100% of its households electrified--some houses in Khichari have been installed with wires and meters but the supplyline of the village has not been connected at the town level, and no house in the village has seen light till now.

For the second part of the series, FactChecker visited Leisang in Manipur, declared the last village to be electrified in April 2018.

Leisang is about 81 km from the state capital of Imphal, the last 3 km a steep uphill climb. It is a tableland nestled in rocky, high mountains, with greenery enveloping its 16 households on all sides. The nearest school is in Kotland village, a steep 3 km away and nearest public health centre, partially functional, is at Tujang Waichong, some 5 km distant.

After the initial media attention died, daily power supply shrank from hours to minutes, villagers told FactChecker.

Yet they told the prime minister during a video conference on July 18, 2018, that they had watched the World Cup thanks to the new power line. Villagers told FactChecker they had been coaxed by power department officials not to mention the irregularity of supply.

After the video conference with the Prime Minister, all the officials who had assured them better power supply have stopped answering their phones, said Khongsai, the village development secretary. No one had come to collect their bills.

For the concluding part of the series, FactChecker visited Sarwara village in UP’s Unnao district. Nearly 90% of the houses in the village have power connections but supply is for no more than 12 hours.

UP already fails to meet its peak hour demand, and must improve its generation capacity or procure power from elsewhere if it is to serve the nine million households it aims to connect in the near future. It must also improve the financial health of UP’s overburdened power utilities, which are struggling under the effects of populist subsidies.

Swachh Bharat and the mission to make India open defecation-free

As many as 62,329 toilets were built every day over the last four years of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), according to government claims. If true, India is on track to be open-defecation free by October 2, 2019--to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary--FactChecker reported in the first part of the series on October 2, 2018.

Even if the government’s claims are taken to be true, there are two key questions:

Who will clean toilets unconnected to sewer lines?

Where will India’s collective excretions land up?

At a time when 123 sewer workers have died since January 2017, one death every five days--with pressure growing to enforce a 1993 ban on “manual scavenging”, the collection of excreta by hand--the answer to the first question is unclear. The answer to the second: In rivers, lakes and seas because 63% of India’s sewage is not treated.

With Rs 66,757 crore ($9.2 billion) spent till date, the SBM is the best-funded sanitation drive in India’s history, but it does not adequately focus on what happens to the sewage in urban and rural India.

No more than 56.4% of urban homes--where 377 million people live--in India are connected to sewer lines (36.7% of rural areas, where 833 million people live, have drainage), according to a 2017 national sample report, the latest data available. Further, India has the capacity to treat only 37% of the sewage generated in urban areas.

For the second part, FactChecker visited three districts--Lucknow, Rae Bareli and Bijnor--in UP to investigate how SBM has been implemented in the state.

Our investigation revealed that even as there is ground-level behaviour change with awareness and greater toilet use, in the race to declare districts open defecation-free, the government has inflated numbers and sanctioned shoddy toilet construction.

Many toilets marked on the system are missing.

Of 1,100 households in Vishun Pur, an open defecation-free village in Rae Bareli district, only 105 toilets have been built. Bhagwan Pur village in Lucknow district, which was declared open defecation-free in June 2018, had low quality toilets. Many toilets lacked doors, and some lacked toilet seats.

On October 2, 2017, Gujarat became the sixth state to be declared to be open-defecation free (ODF). For the concluding part, FactChecker visited 12 villages across four districts--Valsad, Dahod, Dang and Chhota Udepur--and found the claim to be untrue.

Under a mango tree, a one-minute walk from his house, farmer Kishanbhai Mawi, a resident of Valsad district’s Kaprada taluka, pointed to the government-built, Indian-style squat toilet that he, his wife, 21-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter never used.

It was easy to see why.

The toilet is a ceramic hole in the ground, without walls, running water or connection to a sewer. It is connected to a cess pit, but that has been of little use. It has been 24 months since the toilet was built gratis for them, but Kishanbhai and family do what they have always done: Squat in their field.

As many as 98.73% of the toilets in the taluka were unused, said the September 2018 report from the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, the government’s auditor.

Farmer Mawi is better off than most in his village. His toilet may not have walls, water, door or roof, but it is embedded in cement. Other households in Jogvel got just a toilet pot or a door.

To the north of Kaprada in Dahod district, a widespread shortage of water was a major deterrent in stopping open defecation. Santuben, a labourer from Gadoi village, had her toilet built under the SBM two years ago. Since it was difficult to get water to keep the toilet clean, her family uses the toilet only during the monsoon.

With inadequate focus on the quality and sustainability of toilets, India risks reversing the great strides it has made in improving sanitation, experts said.

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