How to end open defe­ca­tion

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - SHEKHAR SINGH CEO of Zila Par­ishad, Sind­hudurg, Ma­ha­rash­tra SUMEDHA KATARIA Deputy Com­mis­sioner, Ku­ruk­shetra, Haryana

We ask govern­ment of­fi­cials about the best strat­egy to tackle this scourge

The in­au­gu­ral edi­tion of Down To Earth Hindi car­ried a cover story on the chal­lenge of san­i­ta­tion in In­dia. The story an­a­lysed whether, and how, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi can ful­fil his de­sir­able prom­ise of toi­lets to all house­holds by Oc­to­ber 2019. It found that the govern­ment will have to con­struct one toi­let ev­ery sec­ond non-stop till Oc­to­ber 2019 to pro­vide toi­lets to all the fam­i­lies who defe­cate in the open. But the 30-odd san­i­ta­tion ex­perts and se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials, who gath­ered in Delhi to dis­cuss the cover story and to take stock of san­i­ta­tion in In­dia, say the chal­lenge is even big­ger and be­yond toi­let con­struc­tion. Ac­cord­ing to their assess­ment, bring­ing the be­havioural change that will en­sure use of toi­lets will be the tough­est task. At the same time, the group had many suc­cess­ful ex­pe­ri­ences of not just build­ing toi­lets but also of mak­ing peo­ple use them. Down To Earth fea­tures three govern­ment of­fi­cials who have suc­cess­fully fought the scourge of open defe­ca­tion, while ask­ing the top In­dian govern­ment of­fi­cial in charge of the mis­sion to chart out the strat­egy to achieve this goal. It is clear that when it comes to san­i­ta­tion there is no de­bate on its im­por­tance; the de­bate is on the right choice of strat­egy.

"sus­tain­ing use of toi­lets is the big­gest chal­lenge"

THE FISRT cru­cial step to tackle the chal­lenge of san­i­ta­tion in ru­ral In­dia is al­ready taken. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has brought this is­sue into na­tional agenda. His per­sonal per­sua­sion of the san­i­ta­tion agenda has al­ready gal­vanised the ad­min­is­tra­tion on the Swachh Bharat Mis­sion. More than 1 00,000 vil­lages have been de­clared open defe­ca­tion-free; many thou­sands will soon join the list. Now the chal­lenge is: how to sus­tain this sta­tus for­ever? I know that there is slip­page in san­i­ta­tion sta­tus; peo­ple get back to open defe­ca­tion even af­ter hav­ing a toi­let at home. Why does it hap­pen? There are many rea­sons. But the big­gest chal­lenge is bring­ing the be­havioural change that will en­sure that peo­ple stop defe­cat­ing in the open. And this chal­lenge has many di­men­sions; each of them is a fur­ther chal­lenge. It is go­ing to be a long-term en­gage­ment and in fu­ture it will re­quire the same kind of po­lit­i­cal back­ing as the san­i­ta­tion pro­gramme is re­ceiv­ing now. Here is an ex­am­ple of how dif­fi­cult the job of bring­ing be­havioural change is. In the United States of Amer­ica, govern­ment had to work for 30-40 years to en­sure that peo­ple use seat belts while driv­ing cars.

The govern­ment feels strongly that just build­ing toi­lets is not go­ing to fetch any­one the swachh (clean) tag. Rather it must be a

broader at­tempt to make a vil­lage clean with toi­lets and also the cru­cial solid and waste man­age­ment mech­a­nism. This makes our job fur­ther chal­leng­ing, though at the pol­icy level we are se­ri­ously pur­su­ing this. To make it a cam­paign, we need to work at the PM (prime min­is­ter), CM (chief min­is­ter), DM (district mag­is­trate) and VM (vil­lage mukhiya or head) lev­els; each do­ing their bit to make peo­ple aware of the ben­e­fits of san­i­ta­tion. Each of the in­sti­tu­tional heads must give her or his sup­port, both po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy and pro­gram­matic. This is the rea­son the govern­ment is work­ing on a vil­lage-level clean­li­ness in­dex. Un­der this, each vil­lage will take the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­com­ing open defe­ca­tion­free and we will em­power them to self-cer­tify their sta­tus. This will bring in own­er­ship over the pro­gramme.

"San­i­ta­tion should be a habit, rather than a com­pul­sion"

6INDHUDURG DISTRICT has been termed the clean­est in the coun­try. In April this year, it be­came open defe­ca­tion-free. The jour­ney has been worth the des­ti­na­tion. There is no one way of en­sur­ing toi­lets to all and that peo­ple use them in the long term. Mak­ing the district open defe­ca­tion-free was a tough call as ev­ery house­hold has to subscribe to this ob­jec­tive.

I used reli­gious faith as a tool to con­vince peo­ple of the im­por­tance of san­i­ta­tion. We have 745 vil­lages com­pris­ing more than 5,000 ham­lets. Each ham­let has one tra­di­tional reli­gious leader, lo­cally called “Gaonkar”. We worked with them to reach out to the larger com­mu­nity. But to be­gin with, we had to con­vince the reli­gious lead­ers of the health and spir­i­tual as­pects of san­i­ta­tion. Once that was achieved, it was easy as these reli­gious lead­ers spread the mes­sage of to­tal san­i­ta­tion among their con­stituen­cies.

At the same time, we adopted the name and shame strat­egy for house­holds who did not have toi­lets. That helped us in forc­ing peo­ple to build toi­lets. An in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the district is that al­most ev­ery house­hold has a mem­ber work­ing in Mum­bai, and al­most all of the district pop­u­la­tion as­pires to work in the city. Our point was with­out hav­ing a toi­let at home how could they as­pire to ad­just to life in a city. We also shame those who are al­ready earn­ing well in Mum­bai but never both­ered to con­struct a toi­let for their fam­ily in the vil­lage. It all hap­pened in meet­ings of pan­chay­ats which every­body at­tends.

At the same time, we fa­cil­i­tated those who wanted to build a toi­let but could not af­ford it. The district ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­ranges loans of R12,000 from District Co­op­er­a­tive Banks at min­i­mal in­ter­est of R110 per month. The peo­ple of the district have a very high civic sense and the district has been his­tor­i­cally do­ing well on the clean­li­ness front. There is good syn­ergy be­tween the peo­ple and the lo­cal govern­ment that has made clean­li­ness a habit rather than a com­pul­sion.

"If peo­ple don't own san­i­ta­tion pro­gramme, open defe­ca­tion will con­tinue"

BY NOVEM­BER this year, Ku­ruk­shetra would be an open defe­ca­tion-free district. But it could have achieved this sta­tus in 2013. This is where a les­son for to­tal san­i­ta­tion lies. In 2010, I was an ad­di­tional deputy com­mis­sioner in the district. I took up a mas­sive cam­paign for mak­ing the district open defe­ca­tion-free. It was not just my per­sonal agenda, but there was sim­i­lar govern­ment at­ten­tion to the prob­lem. We roped in the com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the women, to make the use of toi­let a fun­da­men­tal habit. The re­sults were over­whelm­ing: in three

years a record 303 vil­lages were de­clared open defe­ca­tion-free and got the cov­eted Nir­mal Gram Puraskar (Clean Vil­lage Award). In these three years I fo­cused on the con­struc­tion of toi­let fa­cil­i­ties and their use. For a state that is in­fa­mous for “hon­our”-re­lated crimes, hav­ing a toi­let be­came the new hon­our.

In 2013, I was trans­ferred out of the district. But I used to come back for other of­fi­cial works. Dur­ing such vis­its, I could see the col­lapse of the great stride the district had made in achiev­ing to­tal san­i­ta­tion. Most of the vil­lages that took pride in the open defe­ca­tion-free sta­tus had gone back to defe­cat­ing in the open. We were back to where we started. But the per­ti­nent ques­tion is: why did this hap­pen?

This is be­cause we failed in sus­tain­ing the en­gage­ment with the com­mu­nity on san­i­ta­tion. Our ef­forts were not con­sis­tent and in just a few months all past work col­lapsed. The com­mu­nity lost the sense of own­er­ship over the pro­gramme; it was just a govern­ment pro­gramme that dis­trib­uted money to build toi­lets. This can hap­pen to any vil­lage in the coun­try.

We are back to cor­rect this fail­ure. This time, the em­pha­sis is on in­volv­ing the com­mu­nity. We are also look­ing at solid waste man­age­ment so that peo­ple don’t com­plain about dis­posal of toi­let waste. The district has been di­vided into 25 clus­ters; each will be su­per­vised by a se­nior of­fi­cial. These of­fi­cials are drawn from all rel­e­vant depart­ments so that san­i­ta­tion does not re­main just a toi­let con­struc­tion ini­tia­tive. Elected mem­bers of the pan­chayat are be­ing used to mo­ti­vate peo­ple in their con­stituen­cies to use toi­lets. It is a new be­gin­ning but with lessons from the past hav­ing been learnt.

"Use both pos­i­tive and nega­tive pres­sure for toi­let use"

SIKKIM IS the first In­dian state to be de­clared open defe­ca­tion-free. That way, the state is the first ex­am­ple of achiev­ing to­tal san­i­ta­tion at this scale.

We achieved it be­cause the govern­ment showed both po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive will. Sikkim is a small hilly state. Its elected mem­bers in Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly and Par­lia­ment showed ea­ger­ness to make it the first state of the coun­try to achieve the sta­tus. This was cou­pled with ad­min­is­tra­tive will. Some of­fi­cers also showed their keen­ness in im­ple­ment­ing it. Fi­nally, we be­came open defe­ca­tion-free two years ago.

Now the chal­lenge is to sus­tain this ef­fort and change peo­ple’s be­hav­iour. Since I joined as the district com­mis­sioner of South Sikkim two years ago, it has been a chal­lenge to keep this mo­men­tum up. I joined when the state was about to achieve this sta­tus. We adopted a few in­no­va­tive meth­ods to keep en­gag­ing with the pub­lic on san­i­ta­tion and other de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues. We have started “field day” and “vil­lage adop­tion” meth­ods to take things fur­ther.

We hold the “field day” on ev­ery Friday where our of­fi­cers visit vil­lages to take stock of the sit­u­a­tion, in­ter­act with vil­lage heads and or­gan­ise meet­ings with vil­lage rep­re­sen­ta­tives to keep them mo­ti­vated. This pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to keep a tab on whether peo­ple are us­ing toi­lets. But our con­ver­sa­tions are mostly about the ben­e­fits of san­i­ta­tion.

In the scheme “District Ad­min­is­tra­tion Adop­tion Vil­lage”, we adopt two pan­chay­ats for six months to turn them into model pan­chay­ats. The main com­po­nent of this ini­tia­tive is to en­cour­age good san­i­ta­tion prac­tices. Lead­ers of these model pan­chay­ats as­sume cru­cial role in en­sur­ing that all san­i­ta­tion-re­lated works get im­por­tance and peo­ple con­tinue to use the toi­lets. They also in­ter­act with neigh­bour­ing vil­lage res­i­dents to en­cour­age them to con­struct and use toi­lets.

We fol­lowed a strat­egy of putting two types of pres­sure on the peo­ple—one pos­i­tive and the other nega­tive. Pos­i­tive pres­sure was put through cam­paigns and so­cial mes­sages across sec­tions of so­ci­ety. Nega­tive pres­sure was ap­plied by re­strict­ing and deny­ing govern­ment ben­e­fits to those who have not con­structed toi­lets or have not given up open defe­ca­tion. This has helped cre­ate an over­all pos­i­tive im­pact.

To cel­e­brate 25 years of Down To Earth we will carry a de­bate ev­ery month on an emerg­ing is­sue

RAJ KUMAR YA­DAV District Mag­is­trate, South Sikkim

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