END­ING OPEN DEFECATION

It’s mis­sion mode for In­dia’s cam­paign to end open defecation. Dead­line: October 2, 2019

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Aasha Khosa

When the vo­lu­mi­nous 2011 cen­sus of in­dia was re­leased, there were many red faces at the cen­tre. The painstak­ingly col­lected and col­lated fig­ures showed that only 32 per­cent in­di­ans were us­ing toi­lets; the rest defe­cated in the open, adding to the dis­ease bur­den and shame of a coun­try that as­pires to be a global eco­nomic power. The world has al­ways been per­plexed by in­dia’s con­tra­dic­tions: its soft­ware en­gi­neers rule sil­i­con Val­ley and yet more than one lakh chil­dren die each year of dis­eases caused by fae­cal mat­ter in the air, wa­ter and soil, thanks to ram­pant open defecation.

The shock to the gov­ern­ment was se­vere, since the then gov­ern­ment of man­mo­han singh – voted for a sec­ond term – had just pat­ted it­self on the back for the suc­cess of a mas­sive toi­let-mak­ing cam­paign that, ac­cord­ing to it, had en­abled 70 per­cent in­di­ans shift to toi­lets and mak­ing in­dia a cleaner coun­try. “This was a huge em­bar­rass­ment and the then gov­ern­ment put the blame on the states, say­ing it had blindly re­lied on num­bers pro­vided by them. maybe the data was ma­nip­u­lated or the toi­lets made by the gov­ern­ment had gone into dis­use,” says a se­nior ngo func­tionary who was in­volved back then in the san­i­ta­tion drive.

By this time, the gov­ern­ment had nearly put an es­ti­mated one lakh crore (or one tril­lion) ru­pees into the san­i­ta­tion

drive un­der dif­fer­ent names and yet the out­come was unim­pres­sive. smaller na­tions with lesser re­sources, like Bangladesh and nepal, were way ahead in reach­ing near to the open defecation free (odf) sta­tus. so when naren­dra modi, in his maiden in­de­pen­dence day ad­dress to the na­tion, gave a call for a clean in­dia, the clean­li­ness move­ment gained im­pe­tus. sources say that ini­tially, the prime min­is­ter’s idea was not fo­cused on end­ing open defecation. “like any in­dian who trav­els abroad and is im­pressed with the beau­ti­ful and clean cities and vil­lages there, he too wanted a utopia of a sparkling in­dia – odf was not in his mind.” How­ever, dur­ing brain­storm­ing with ex­perts and se­nior pol­i­cy­mak­ers, modi re­alised that end­ing open defecation was the key to mak­ing in­dia not only clean but also healthy and pros­per­ous. Thus came into ex­is­tence his most favourite scheme, swachh Bharat mis­sion (sbm), that was for­mally launched on gandhi Jayanti, october 2, 2014.

Parameswaran iyer, a for­mer World Bank san­i­ta­tion ex­pert, who was roped in for his global ex­pe­ri­ence to make sbm a suc­cess, says, “The high­est po­lit­i­cal author­ity back­ing a san­i­ta­tion drive is un­prece­dented. it has rarely hap­pened any­where in the world and hence it’s a great op­por­tu­nity to make in­dia clean.” (See pro­file of Parameswaran Iyer, page 24.)

Ac­cord­ing to nisheeth Ku­mar of Knowl­edge links, an ngo, swachh Bharat is dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous san­i­ta­tion drives in the sense that in­stead of toi­let build­ing, it aims at end­ing open defecation; also the mis­sion has a ‘dead­line and a date’– october 2, 2019 – the 150th birth an­niver­sary of ma­hatma gandhi, who made san­i­ta­tion part of the free­dom strug­gle. A for­mer civil ser­vant from up, who left his job to work in the de­vel­op­men­tal sec­tor, nisheeth Ku­mar’s ngo is in­volved in train­ing per­son­nel for trans­form­ing sbm from a gov­ern­ment­launched scheme into a com­mu­nityled ini­tia­tive.

Bin­desh­war Pathak, who had started the toi­let mak­ing cam­paign with the pur­pose of lib­er­at­ing so-called low-caste peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally in­volved in lift­ing hu­man exc­reta, cred­its modi with pop­u­lar­is­ing the idea of to­tal san­i­ta­tion and cre­at­ing con­scious­ness at a na­tional level. He says that dur­ing an in­ter­ac­tion with lo­cals in a ra­jasthan vil­lage, he was in­tro­duced to a nine-year-old boy who had be­come the brand am­bas­sador of swachh Bharat on his own. “Peo­ple called him chhota modi as he would ob­ject to peo­ple’s habit of lit­ter­ing. The prime min­is­ter’s in­volve­ment in the mis­sion has gen­er­ated a phe­nom­e­nal con­scious­ness about san­i­ta­tion across in­dia,” Pathak says.

The fig­ures of toi­lets made and to be made and the pop­u­la­tion that would be af­fected thus are in­deed mind-bog­gling. since its launch three years ago, sbm has al­ready led to the build­ing of 467.94 lakh toi­lets and made 230 mil­lion peo­ple who were defe­cat­ing in the open use toi­lets. This means that now 67 per­cent in­di­ans are us­ing toi­lets as against 39 per­cent three years ago. Three years of the mis­sion mode cam­paign have helped re­duce in­dia’s bur­den of open defecation by 28 per­cent. By all counts, sbm is the one of the most talked about and dy­namic schemes of the modi gov­ern­ment.

In Iyer’s of­fice, the fig­ures are changed every day. Five states – Ker­ala, Haryana, Hi­machal Pradesh, sikkim, and ut­tarak­hand – claim they have erad­i­cated open defecation. These in­clude 186 districts and over 2,32,864 odf vil­lages. Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s swach­hta sta­tus re­port 2016, in­dia’s vil­lages are a big­ger prob­lem: about 52.1 per­cent of our vil­lagers defe­cate in the open as against 7.5 per­cent in ur­ban ar­eas.

in­dia’s lack of toi­lets is linked to ageold be­liefs and men­tal as­so­ci­a­tions: defe­cat­ing or uri­nat­ing is not some­thing you do any­where around your home; more­over, these bod­ily func­tions are con­sid­ered un­holy. Pathak, whose su­labh in­ter­na­tional ser­vice Or­gan­i­sa­tion is In­dia’s first NGO to work in the area, says the scrip­tures pre­scribed the safe dis­posal of hu­man waste and for­bade peo­ple from defe­cat­ing close to a wa­ter source, hu­man habi­ta­tion etc. His mis­sion, launched in Patna way back in the early 1970s, had an­other con­cern: the man­ual scav­eng­ing en­forced on the so-called low­caste peo­ple. His idea of toi­let build­ing, which was later adopted by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, was to lib­er­ate dal­its from the de­mean­ing and un­hy­gienic work of man­ual scav­eng­ing. He would mo­ti­vate oth­ers to con­struct toi­lets us­ing a cheap twin soakpit tech­nol­ogy he had in­vented as a stu­dent of so­ci­ol­ogy so that scav­engers are made job­less. mean­while, scav­engers would be trained in vo­ca­tional cour­ses like beauty care and ap­parel mak­ing to start a new life. He has been able to build 1.5 mil­lion toi­lets for house­holds and 8,500 com­mu­nity pay-for-use toi­lets and re­ha­bil­i­tated about one mil­lion scav­engers from the curse of caste bondage.

When the Modi gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship pro­gramme was launched, Bangladesh had made gi­ant strides in end­ing open defecation. This cam­paign was done sans mon­e­tary in­cen­tive; peo­ple there were made to un­der­stand that open defecation is bad for them and that end­ing it is in their own in­ter­est. The gov­ern­ment never got in­volved in chang­ing peo­ples’ habits or came in the pic­ture. in fact, all over the world, such cam­paigns have never worked with fi­nan­cial help from the

Ini­tially, the PM was look­ing at just mak­ing our cities look neat and beau­ti­ful – like in the West. Only dur­ing brain­storm­ing did it emerge that mak­ing vil­lages free of open defecation might be a more im­por­tant goal to achieve, be­cause of the health ben­e­fits it would bring.

gov­ern­ment. in­ter­est­ingly, the founder of the Bangladesh’s odf plan is an in­dian – dr Ka­mal Kar, founder of the Kolkata-based com­mu­nity-led To­tal san­i­ta­tion Foun­da­tion (clts Foun­da­tion). The foun­da­tion, which is work­ing in Africa, south Asia and south­east Asia on san­i­ta­tion and odf projects, has a ba­sic mantra for the suc­cess of such cam­paigns – peo­ple should not be pro­vided with in­cen­tive to change things which are for their own good. in fact, Bangladesh has used the clts (com­mu­nity led to­tal san­i­ta­tion) ap­proach of dr Kar to reach close to be­com­ing an odf coun­try.

Kar re­mains crit­i­cal of the in­dian ap­proach on sbm, where the gov­ern­ment pro­vides ₹12,000 for toi­let con­struc­tion to BPL card hold­ers. He calls the in­cen­tive on toi­lets an in­dian mon­ster and writes on his foun­da­tion’s web­site: “The use of the clts ap­proach in sbm has been wa­tered down to mere use of trig­ger­ing tools to gen­er­ate a need for toi­lets among com­mu­nity mem­bers, af­ter which those el­i­gi­ble are given the sanc­tioned amount to build toi­lets. There­fore, the fo­cus has con­tin­ued to re­main on ac­quir­ing toi­lets as an in­di­vid­ual as­set, rather than in­spir­ing col­lec­tive be­hav­iour change for bet­ter san­i­ta­tion (in­volv­ing the so­called el­i­gi­ble and not el­i­gi­ble) which is a pub­lic good and there­fore the re­spon­si­bil­ity of every sin­gle in­di­vid­ual in the com­mu­nity.”

it goes on to say: “An open defecation free en­vi­ron­ment guided by shared val­ues, com­mu­nity sol­i­dar­ity and col­lec­tive ac­tion from the com­mu­nity is what sus­tains this be­hav­iour change as well. With the pro­vi­sion of out­side fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, firstly san­i­ta­tion is ex­ter­nally mo­ti­vated, seen as some­one else’s need and not one’s own and hence not in­ter­nalised and pri­ori­tised by the peo­ple. se­condly, when the sub­sidy is given only to some (those be­low poverty line who have not re­ceived the same in ear­lier san­i­ta­tion pro­grammes) and not the oth­ers, there is no scope for col­lec­tive ac­tion as the com­mu­nity gets frag­mented. The re­sult as we’ve seen through the many decades and dif­fer­ent san­i­ta­tion pro­grammes in in­dia, is a sit­u­a­tion where com­mu­ni­ties have toi­lets, but ei­ther do not use it or it is used only by some mem­bers of the fam­ily while oth­ers con­tinue to defe­cate in the open.”

de­vel­op­men­tal ex­perts across in­dia are also un­happy with the sub­sidy part of the sbm. How­ever, young district col­lec­tors, who play a piv­otal role in mak­ing sbm a suc­cess, have de­vised their own ways to deal with the ‘sub­sidy mon­ster’. ravin­der Ku­mar, dc, reasi, Jammu and Kash­mir, says he avoided us­ing sub­sidy for mak­ing his district the first ODF block of the state. “Get­ting sub­sidy is cum­ber­some and not help­ful,” he says. He mo­bilised the vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties and asked re­source­ful vil­lagers to help poor ones so that no­body has to go out for defecation. “some­one do­nated a com­mode, the other ce­ment and bricks and the fam­ily of the ben­e­fi­ciary worked to make the toi­let.” ravin­der Ku­mar’s achieve­ment was men­tioned by the prime min­is­ter in his ‘mann ki Baat’ ra­dio ad­dress. The suc­cess of Reasi is sig­nif­i­cant, since J&K is one of the states with high open defecation bur­den – more than 50 per­cent.

“smart ad­min­is­tra­tors are us­ing the sub­sidy money to hire trained com­mu­ni­ca­tors, who, in turn, work on mo­ti­vat­ing the com­mu­nity to make their vil­lage odf,” a se­nior bu­reau­crat says.

“I don’t vi­su­alise In­dia be­com­ing fully ODF by 2019. I think it will take an­other 10 years for us to reach that level as chang­ing peo­ple’s habits will take much longer.” Nisheeth Ku­mar, CEO, Knowl­edge Links

“I know that in many vil­lages, DMS have em­ployed con­trac­tors to build the toi­lets with­out any com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. At places, they are dig­ging one-pit la­trines which will get clogged in three years.” Bin­desh­war Pathak, founder, Su­labh In­ter­na­tional There is some crit­i­cism of the In­dian gov­ern­ment for giv­ing peo­ple in­cen­tives to build toi­lets. Some ex­perts say that peo­ple col­lect the money, build a makeshift toi­let, but stop us­ing it within a few months. Or they use it as a store-room. What is needed is to change peo­ple’s habits and get them to use toi­lets at home.

oth­ers are mak­ing use of ter­mi­nol­ogy like ‘iz­zat ghar’ for a toi­let to in­voke the pride of vil­lagers in mak­ing their habi­ta­tion odf.

An NGO of­fi­cial, who is look­ing af­ter the sbm in ma­ha­rash­tra, says that putting all re­spon­si­bil­ity on one of­fi­cial – the district col­lec­tor, district mag­is­trate or district com­mis­sioner, as the case may be from re­gion to re­gion – has its own pit­falls. “The sbm was launched with­out cre­at­ing an in­fra­struc­ture for its im­ple­men­ta­tion be­low,” she says. she gives the ex­am­ple of a taluka in ma­ha­rash­tra with 80 vil­lages that they were work­ing to be made odf, there are just two per­sons from gov­ern­ment for her to com­mu­ni­cate with. As nisheeth Ku­mar put it, un­less the im­ple­ment­ing of­fi­cials have a mis­sion­ary spirit, the odf tar­get is very dif­fi­cult to ac­com­plish. “And we know that not ev­ery­one is born with this spirit,” he says.

Of­fi­cials in the know say the tar­get for toi­let build­ing has been re­vised. A cir­cu­lar sent to district ad­min­is­tra­tors says toi­let mak­ing should be done by de­cem­ber 2018 and the re­main­ing time would be used for ver­i­fi­ca­tion of claims and in set­ting up the fol­low-up sys­tems to mo­ti­vate vil­lagers to con­tinue the use of toi­lets. The dead­line had also put pres­sure on the dms, lead­ing to many other ur­gent is­sues and ar­eas get­ting ne­glected.

The NGO of­fi­cial nar­rated the story of a dc in gu­jarat, where the sbm is mak­ing great progress. it seems one day the lo­cal leg­is­la­tor barged into a DC’S of­fice in a tribal district and di­rected him to dis­play a pub­lic sign­post about the district hav­ing achieved odf. The dm’s pleas that his area was still go­ing through a base­line sur­vey and nowhere close to achiev­ing odf went un­heard. “i had to put up the board to please the neta while things were still go­ing on the ground,” the dc is learnt to have told the of­fi­cial.

in the dangs district of gu­jarat, the ru­ral de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment claimed there was 92 per­cent toi­let cov­er­age. But a base­line sur­vey by an ngo found only 20-25 per­cent toi­lets had been con­structed. sim­i­larly, in shivli vil­lage of ma­ha­rash­tra, the ngoled base­line sur­vey found only eight fam­i­lies were en­ti­tled to the mon­e­tary in­cen­tive for toi­let build­ing while 200 fam­i­lies had al­ready availed them­selves of it. no­body dares to speak the truth be­cause of the pres­sure of meet­ing the dead­line and know­ing that this is part of the prime min­is­ter’s favourite pro­gramme.

Iyer says ODF ver­i­fi­ca­tion is an im­por­tant job, for which the pro­fes­sion­als are be­ing trained and sys­tems in the process of be­ing set up. He says con­struc­tion of toi­lets will hap­pen well be­fore the dead­line and his fo­cus is on fig­ur­ing out how to cope with its af­ter­math – ver­i­fi­ca­tion of claims of ODF and con­ti­nu­ity of toi­let us­age. “it’s in our mind and we are still work­ing on it,” he says.

rush­ing through toi­let con­struc­tion to meet the dead­line is mak­ing the au­thor­i­ties throw cau­tion to the winds on en­vi­ron­men­tal safe­guards of toi­let pits. “What if tomorrow it’s found that many a toi­let pit are pol­lut­ing the wa­ter re­sources? it would be a greater tragedy then,” an NGO of­fi­cial says.

Pathak says the pres­sure to de­liver is a prob­lem. “i know that in many vil­lages, dms have em­ployed con­trac­tors to build the toi­lets with­out any com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. At places, they are dig­ging one-pit la­trines which will get clogged in three years,” he says. He also asks why the gov­ern­ment was aban­don­ing the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of man­ual scav­engers, which was sup­posed to have led to higher us­age of mod­ern la­trines and rid­den many peo­ple of the tag of low-caste san­i­ta­tion work­ers.

iyer is aware of the com­plex­i­ties

of the so­cial and caste mi­lieu of in­dia and the risk that the ap­proach of the gov­ern­ment on sbm can in­cur in the long run. For this rea­son, one day he had ac­com­pa­nied a team of 40 of­fi­cials to gan­gade­vipalli, a model vil­lage in Waran­gal district of Te­lan­gana, and re­moved the dried residue from a la­trine pit him­self. The vil­lagers and of­fi­cers were vis­i­bly in awe of a ‘high caste’ se­nior of­fi­cer clean­ing a shit pit. The mes­sage was out that clean­ing the driver la­trine pit af­ter it is left to dry is safe.

modi, it seems, has con­trib­uted to the nomen­cla­ture of the fu­ture san­i­ta­tion army of­fi­cers, who are still be­ing trained to meet up the chal­lenge of sus­tain­ing the clean­li­ness drive. Posts like ‘swach­hata doot’ (san­i­ta­tion mes­sen­ger), ‘swach­ha­grahi’, ‘swach­hata pre­rak’ and ‘swach­hathon’ (run for clean­li­ness) are be­ing pro­posed, though there is no clar­ity on their em­ploy­ment and pay struc­ture. While the Tata Trust has taken care of 450 swach­hata pre­raks, one each to be posted in each district to help the dm with com­mu­nity work, the oth­ers, largely vol­un­teers, will be paid a nom­i­nal re­mu­ner­a­tion. some six lakh swach­ha­grahis are to be ap­pointed, one each to a vil­lage, to per­suade vil­lagers to main­tain clean­li­ness be­yond odf dec­la­ra­tion. How­ever, the terms of their em­ploy­ment will be on the line of ASHAS (ac­cred­ited so­cial health ac­tivists) who are paid a pal­try amount to carry out a large num­ber of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Al­ready, ASHAS are on the warpath with the gov­ern­ment on the is­sue of re­mu­ner­a­tion.

The modi regime’s crack­down on ngos has led the gov­ern­ment to largely shun­ning the role of these key re­sources for the sbm. Pathak says ngos can play an im­por­tant role in stream­lin­ing work on the ground. How­ever, modi has hand­picked only a few re­source­ful ngos for build­ing toi­lets. A se­nior pol­i­cy­maker in the gov­ern­ment says, “There is sus­pi­cion of many ngos not be­ing hon­est and hav­ing du­bi­ous links; hence they have been kept out of the purview of this pro­gramme.”

go­ing by the blue­print of the sbm, it would ap­pear that by october 2, 2019, in­dia would be a cleaner land – no trash dumps on the road­side, vil­lages clean and the in­fant mor­tal­ity rate com­ing down dra­mat­i­cally and ev­ery­one us­ing toi­lets. Iyer clar­i­fied that the 2019 tar­get is only for mak­ing in­dia open defecation free. “The is­sue of solid waste man­age­ment will take much longer to deal with and that has to be dealt by dif­fer­ent agen­cies and un­der var­i­ous heads.”

nisheeth Ku­mar is scep­ti­cal. “By october 2019, i don’t vi­su­alise in­dia be­com­ing fully odf. i think it will take an­other 10 years for us to reach that level as chang­ing peo­ple’s habits will take much longer.”

“Get­ting sub­sidy is cum­ber­some and not help­ful. In­stead, we mo­bilised vil­lagers to help the poor ones. Some­one do­nated a com­mode, the other ce­ment and bricks and the fam­ily of the ben­e­fi­ciary worked to make the toi­let.” Ravin­der Ku­mar, district col­lec­tor, Reasi, Jammu & Kash­mir

Ashish asthana

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