A km away from BJP office, Gujarat neighbourhood punctures govt’s open defecation free claims

Nearly 200 families of labourers from the Vadi community live in Murlinagar Vadivas in Junagadh district.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
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In 2017, then Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani declared the state open-defecation free. Two years later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the same claim about the whole country.

However, barely a kilometre away from the BJP office in Junagadh’s Manavadar city, around 200 families are still forced to defecate in the open in Murlinagar Vadivas, Newslaundry has found. These families consist of labourers from the Vadi community, a Scheduled Caste, and mostly rely on odd jobs at the cotton mills nearby for a livelihood.

Manavadar is one of Junagadh’s five assembly constituencies and is currently held by BJP MLA and former state minister Jawahar Chavda. He had won the seat as a Congress candidate in 2017 before resigning as the MLA and winning the bypoll on a BJP ticket two years later. He was subsequently appointed as the tourism and fisheries minister in the Rupani government.

However, not much has changed for residents of Murlinagar Vadivas, who go to a jungle nearby to relieve themselves, and have concerns about “dignity”.

Sobhaben Parmar, a local, said that women face more problems. “We have to go either early in the morning or after sunset. In the daytime, we can’t go because of privacy,” she said.

“The government should make toilets in every household here so that women don’t have to go to the jungle, one km away. Girls and women face difficulty in open defecation,” said Banshiben Parmar, another resident, adding that it was a matter of “dignity”.

A street in the locality.

In Manavadar, Chavda is contesting against Congress candidate Arvind Ladani and AAP candidate and former ally Karshan Prabat Bhadarka.

One year after the BJP government in Gujarat declared the state open-defecation free, the Comptroller and Auditor General said the claim “does not appear to be correct”. According to the report, only 71 percent of the 54,008 households in the test-checked villages had access to toilets, and Junagadh was among the poorly performing districts with 31 percent families without the facility.

The Congress has repeatedly tried to target the BJP over the issue. 

In the 2017 elections, the BJP had won just one of the five seats in Junagarh, but this tally increased when Chavda and Visavadar MLA Harshadkumar Ribadiya joined the party. These five constituencies will vote in the first phase of the elections on December 1.

“In every election, political parties be it BJP, Congress or AAP make promises. ‘We will do this or that.’ They just deliver speeches but nothing happens. Our daughters and sisters are forced to relieve themselves in the open,” said Nanji Parmar, a community leader.

Newslaundry could find only four toilets in the area for 200 households. 

Navagan Parmar, who works in a cotton mill, said that he had built a toilet in his house a few years ago but it collapsed. “We go to the nearby jungle for defecation,” he said. 

The BJP government in Gujarat has also tom-tommed the subsidised distribution of gas cylinders under the Ujjwala Yojana among its achievements. 

However, none of the households in Murlinagar Vadivas have a gas cylinder, according to Nanji Parmar, and Newslaundry found several women preparing meals using wood. According to Parmar, no household in the locality is aware of the scheme and even the subsidised gas would be “very expensive”.

Asked about prices of gas cylinders and the lack of toilets, MLA Chavda said he will look at these issues only after the election. When informed that the Vadi community has been facing such issues for a long time, he shot back, “I don’t have time to answer such questions. You come and meet me in person.”

Asked about his work over the last five years, he said, “It will take the whole day to list achievements.”

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