In Ra­jkot, col­lege stu­dents fan out on san­i­ta­tion mis­sion

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION - Hi­ral Dave

RA­JKOT: He­tal, a 20-year-old col­lege stu­dent from Ra­jkot, lives in a ten­e­ment with two at­tached toi­lets. She, how­ever, does not mind us­ing the mo­bile toi­let vans parked kilo­me­tres away at the Laxmi­na­gar slums.

Ask her why, and she replies: “I try to set an ex­am­ple for slum dwellers to stop open defe­ca­tion.”

He­tal is not alone in do­ing this. About 50 young vol­un­teers, all stu­dents of a san­i­ta­tion course at the All India In­sti­tute of Lo­cal Self­gov­ern­ment, fan out across var­i­ous parts of the city ev­ery day on an im­por­tant quest – spot­ting peo­ple head­ing to the rail­way tracks or neigh­bour­hood fields for an­swer­ing na­ture’s call. But be­fore they can reach their des­ti­na­tion, these vol­un­teers ap­proach them and gen­tly at­tempt con­vinc­ing them to use the near­est pub­lic toi­let.

“We know that’s usu­ally not the right time for a chat. Some of them get an­gry and abuse us. At times, they even phys­i­cally as­sault us. But, in the end, they agree,” says Nipurn Si­raya, another vol­un­teer.

On many oc­ca­sions, the vol­un­teers – ac­com­pa­nied by sup­port­ive re­li­gious and com­mu­nity lead­ers – hold overnight meet­ings with slum dwellers to sell the idea of us­ing toi­lets. The area’s civic body, for its part, pays a stipend of ₹2,500 to the stu­dents for their trou­ble.

As it turns out, their work doesn’t seem to be go­ing in vain. “We started us­ing a pub­lic toi­let af­ter these young stu­dents made us swear on our deity to do so,” says Radha Rapcha, a 55-year-old slumd­weller “Till now an­swer­ing the rail­way tracks, with friends and rel­a­tives form­ing a cir­cu­lar hu­man chain to pro­vide cover. Us­ing the toi­let was un­com­fort­able in the be­gin­ning, but we are slowly get­ting used to it. Of course, we also un­der­stand that it’s more hy­gienic.”

The re­sult: Ra­jkot, the fourth­largest city in Gu­jarat with over 100 slums, is 99.7% open defe­ca­tion­free. It ranked sev­enth in a re­cent sur­vey on clean cities con­ducted by the min­istry of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment – a jump of nearly 25 po­si­tions.

Here, defe­cat­ing in the open – es­pe­cially in an area with toi­lets – could even at­tract a penalty of ₹50. “The penalty will be strictly im­ple­mented once toi­lets are con­structed at all the sites, and the aware­ness cam­paign is thor­oughly con­ducted,” says Ra­jkot mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sioner Vi­jay Nehra.

As many as 11,716 in­di­vid­ual and 30 com­mu­nity toi­let units were con­structed with funds made avail­able un­der the Swachch Bharat Mis­sion. At sites where con­struc­tion work was not fea­si­ble, 30 mo­bile toi­lets with 130 seats and 95 por­ta­ble toi­lets were in­stalled. These in­cluded 20 west­ern toi­lets that could be used by se­nior and phys­i­cally-chal­lenged cit­i­zens.

“Ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion and pub­lic aware­ness cou­pled with in­ter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion are the key fac­tors for our suc­cess ”

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