At first glance, Golarhat, a village on the east coast of India, looks picture-perfect with lush greenery, neat mud houses and water bodies. But the village, like thousands of others in the country, until recently lacked toilets for each household and open defecation was the practice, exposing the people to serious health hazards.
Thanks to a massive campaign run by Trilochan Rout, sarpanch of Golarhat gram panchayat comprising 12 villages, many villages like Golarhat have already built household toilets and are on their way to end open defecation by March 2016. Each of the 1,400 households in the
panchayat will have pucca toilets by then.
The campaign to build toilets has been initiated using funds allocated under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), the flagship programme of the central government launched on October 2, 2014. The SBM focuses on a ‘district’ as the base unit, with a goal towards creating open defecation-free (ODF) gram panchyats by 2019. “Open defecation was a norm in our gram panchayat where only 200 households had toilets,” Rout told FE.
He said that it had been a difficult process to convince people about building toilets and using them. Even in Panthipatna village part of Golarhat gram panchayat, only 17 out of 57 households had toilets. Rout, with support from Kendrapara district officials, conducted a series of gram sabhas to identify households not having toilets facilities.
The next biggest challenge was to convince people to use toilets after construction. “After a number of meetings with the villagers in the last six months, we could convince at least 400 households to construct toilets using SBM funds,” Rout said. Rout and his officer bearers also ensure quality raw materials for construction of toilets through placing bulk orders. More than 3.5 lakh individual toilets have been built in Odisha under SBM so far in the current fiscal.
At present, Rout and his team are conducting a door-to-door survey to identify households without toilets, irrespective of whether they belong to below poverty line (BPL) or above poverty line (APL) families. “Within the next six months, we will be able to declare our gram panchyat as ODF,” Rout said.
A sum of R12, 000 is provided to each of the BPL and APL households for the construction of one toilet unit along with water availability. Of the total allocation, 75% to each household is provided by the Centre and the rest is supported by the state government. Those APL families not covered by the mission would be motivated and triggered to take up construction of the household latrines on their own.
A ministry of drinking water and sanitation official said that the SBM encourages additional contribution from the household for the construction of toilets, promoting ownership,so that quality assets are created.
“The focus of our strategy was to use a decentralised planning model by providing flexibility to the state government to decide on the implementation of the mission keeping in mind state specific requirement,” the official said. Experts say that the district collectors or magistrates, or chairman of zilla panchayats, lead the mission, so as to facilitate district-wide planning for the implementation and optimum utilisation of resources.
The mission focuses on the preparation of district-specific plans, consolidated by the respective state government before submitting to the ministry of drinking water and sanitation for approval. The goal of the mission is to achieve 100% access to sanitation for all rural households by October 2, 2019.
(Travel for this report was sponsored by the Government of India-UNDP Media Fellowships on Decentralised Planning, 2015)