Villages and communities across the country are adopting innovative ways to make Bharat a Swachh country
Even as the Narendra Modi government has announced to make the state open defecation free (OFD) by 2018, there is an urgent need to address the requirement of some communities and villages that need toilets more than others.
According to government expenditure data, the centre had spent 89% of its annual budget by early January. Importantly, the measure of success has moved from the mere construction of toilets to achieving “open defecation free” (ODF) status and village after village have been busy trying to meet this goal.
Between April 2016 and January 2017, the total number of villages that had declared themselves ODF almost tripled from 49,599 in 2015-16 to 146,775. Two states, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh joined Sikkim to achieve the status of being ODF states.
In 2015, not a single village in Kerala was ODF. By October 2016, the entire state had achieved this distinction. And to enable this, toilet construction activity increased significantly. The state reported construction of 165,898 toilets in the month of October alone.
Various state governments, in view of Centre’s thrust on ODF, have been making their own strategies to achieve maximum success. Some have been adopting persuasive tactics while some coercive. Whatever the means, the aim simply is to achieve the target and make Swachh Bharat Abhiyan a success.
For people in rural India, defecating in the open used to be a leisurely activity. People used to go out in groups chatting and gossiping. It used to provide them a whiff of fresh morning air and some physical exercise thrown in. But, not any more. These days, it is fraught with challenges. One could find the details of his morning ritual narrated like a cricket match commentary. Or people could be denied ration and government documents for failing to build a toilet at home.
“In Indore, temple loudspeakers were used to narrate a commentary when someone went out to defecate in the open. Photographs of people defecating in the open being interrupted by strangers offering flowers did rounds on social media. In Rajasthan’s Ajmer district, the administration has formed citizens’ groups to blow whistles if they spot anyone defecating in the open. According to a local media, Sawai Madhopur collector KC Verma has directed ration shops to stop giving people grains if they don’t build toilets.
In Maharashtra’s Solapur, the administration has resorted to public shaming to curb open defecation. Those failing to use a toilet would find their name on a list in the town square or a local paper. Repeat offenders would find a musical band chasing them home or could be locked up for two hours by the police.
Kapasi village, which was declared the first ODF village in Balod districts In Chhattisgarh, CCTVs have been installed to stop people from open defecation. In South Sikkim, people are denied government documents including OBC/ death/birth certificates, if they don’t build toilets.
“We put two types of pressure— one positive and the other negative. Positive pressure was put through campaigns and social messaging. Negative pressure was applied by restricting and denying government benefits to those who haven’t constructed toilets or haven’t given up ODF,” Rajkumar Yadav, district collector, South Sikkim.
But, there is no better story to explain the efforts for ODF and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan than the one coming from a village in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. In Bhujanpurwa, a tiny hamlet in Banda district landless Dalits and lower castes pay Rs 40 per family a month as ‘toilet tax’ for defecating in the fields of landowners for giving them permission to defecate in their fields.
Pradeep Srivastava, a social worker, who visited the village, said that this unusual toilet tax is levied on landless daily-wagers for the past many years here. “It is charged from those who have no toilets at their homes and use fields of others for defecating in open.,” he said.
According to 2011 census, about 77 per cent rural households have no toilets in Uttar Pradesh. Till 2015, about 29.7 lakhs toilets were constructed in rural areas in the state. Like any other caste-ridden village in Uttar Pradesh, Bhujanpurwa too is divided between land owners and landless. Majority of the village population works in the fields for their survival. It all started when village population grew and there was no place left for people to relieve. Dalits and others having no toilets at home used to be shooed away by influential land owners when some dared to defecate in their fields.
Finally, influential land owners came out with a unique solution to the problem. They offered their fields for defecation for a price. Initially Rs 20 was fixed for a month but later it was increased to Rs 40 a month per family due to growing inflation. Permission is given to only those families who pay the toilet tax in advance.
“The toilet tax is deducted from our wages once in a month. Where will our women and girls go for defecation? quipped Suresh, a dalit of the village. “We have no choice than to pay for using their fields to relieve ourselves. At least that’s secured and our girls are not scared of being raped or abducted after dark when they go to relieve themselves,” says Rama Devi.
Ironically, the Banda district administration is unaware of the practice in Bhujanpurwa. “We have not come across with any complaint in this regard. Since the matter has been brought to our notice, we are sending a team to inquire into the matter,” stated Additional District Magistrate Ganga Ram Gupta.
Significantly, the Yogi government has announced to take some tough measures also to make state OFD by 2018. The Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed district magistrates to cancel arms licenses of those having no toilets at their houses.
Elsewhere in the country too, stern measurers are being taken to make the ODF programme a reality sooner than later. Last week, a 70-year old man in Tuticorin, filed a case in the Madras High Court, stating that his village has denied work under the rural employment guarantee scheme because he failed to build a toilet. “The district official’s action violates Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution,” he said in his petition.
“While threatening citizens may enable officials to participate in the ODF race, ODF will only be achieved and sustained when people demand facilities,” activists said.
“Pressure has to be put on people to end socially deviant behaviour. But before that happens, two things have to be done: One, there are enough toilets and second, the community is on board,” said Meeta Rajiv Lochan, former director, municipal administration, Maharashtra.
One of the reasons why users are not demanding toilets is that the message about the importance of latrine use is not reaching people. “The SBM allocates only 3% of the total budget to Information, Education and Communication (IEC). Worse, that money is not being spent,” explained Diane Coffey, executive director, RICE.
RICE has been conducting a phone survey, which applies similar techniques used by Gallup poll, in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, on whether the sanitation message is reaching people. “In 2016, 2,708 people answered questions. One question asked respondents whether they have heard of the SBM: 62% of people in Delhi claimed to have heard of the SBM, similar to 63% of urban UP. The figure was 45% in rural UP,” Coffey says.
To people who said they had heard of the SBM, RICE asked: What do you think the SBM does? Very few people included among their responses the idea that the SBM had anything to do with toilets or latrines: 5% in Delhi, 6% in urban UP, and only 4% of rural UP.
“Among over 700 women interviewed in UP, not a single one without education beyond secondary school mentioned that the SBM includes a goal about toilets or latrines,” Coffey says. The other problem is that the payment mechanism for toilets is also slow.
An analysis of public data by Accountability Initiative, SBM-G guidelines require 8% of allocations to be utilised for IEC. However, in FY 2016-17, till 10 January 2017, only 1% of total expenditure had been spent IEC activities.
“The huge gap in the percentage spent between construction of toilets and communication for behaviour change indicate disconnect between SBM guidelines and implementation. Behaviour change takes time. So there needs to be a strong focus on diverse, localised, multiple and repeated modes of communication. This is missing now,” said Dr Khurana.
Akshay Kumar Rout, Officer on Special Duty (OSD), SBM, however, denied that coercive measures are being used to meet the 2019 deadline. “The Centre does not approve of any coercive measures. The programme has moved from toilet building to ensuring behaviour change,” he said.
He, however, agreed that some states need training on better usage of IEC funds. “We are piloting new programmes to spread message about the link between health and improved sanitation,” Rout said.
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