It's a situation reminiscent of what we saw in National Award winning film Joker. A tribal village in Coimbatore district has allegedly been cheated by a contractor hired to build toilets.
45 households in the village allegedly handed over the money they received through the Swachh Bharath Scheme to a state government appointed contractor but the promised toilets have not been built.
The contractor, however, claims that he never received the money from the beneficiaries of the scheme.
According to the villagers of Aalmaramedu, Eswaran, a contractor made them sign on two payee slips each, so that he can avail the money that came from the central government scheme. Rs.12,000 from their accounts was taken by the contractor and the residents have passbook entries to prove the same.
But over the next three months, the contractor partially constructed toilets in 10 houses, while the others saw no activity at all.
"We are all part of the Scheduled Tribe community and are illiterate," says 50-year-old Mani, who lives in the village. "There have never been toilets in our village and when we were informed of the scheme, we agreed to it immediately. We even dug pits for septic tanks by ourselves but the toilets never came," he adds.
When questioned, the contractor tells the media, "I never received the money that was meant for building toilets. The people took it from the account and kept it for themselves."
The residents, however, vehemently deny these allegations.
"Why would we lie about this?" asks Ponammal, a daily wage worker from the village."For women, answering nature's call is an everyday struggle. When we try to relieve ourselves in the forests, officers chase us away. Too many houses have come up and we fear for our safety and privacy," she says.
But how did they allow the contractor to allegedly take their money?
"We only signed the bank documents they gave us because a well-known face from the local Panchayat told us that we will get toilets," says Ponammal
This trusted face is Prakash Veerpandi, a Panchayat clerk. When TNM contacted him, however, he took the side of the contractor.
"The money was credited into the accounts of the villagers but nobody handed it over to the contractor. How will he do work without the initial capital?" he asks.
When asked about passbook entries that clearly state that the money was withdrawn by Eswaran, the clerk modifies his statement.
He says, "Only 25% of them gave the money."
TNM contacted MLA Aarukutty over this alleged corruption and he says, "I have just heard about this entire problem. We are getting two versions of what happened. I have called the contractor to meet me tomorrow. I will have a talk with him and sort matters out."
(With inputs from Sudhakar)