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‘Nirmal India’ Still Eludes Us

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RECENTLY,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised the need for adequate sanitation in India is his Republic Day speech. A couple of years ago, then Union rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh said that India is one of the filthiest countries in the world. After spending Rs 19,626 crore in last 10 years on Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), a large population of India is still defecating out in open. This is what a study of UN University says:

“India’s mobile subscribers totaled 563.73 million at the last count, enough to serve nearly half of the country’s 1.2 billion population. But just 366 million people — around a third of the population (31%) — had access to proper sanitation in 2008, said the study published by the United Nations University, a UN think-tank.”

The situation is no better today. Rural ministry claims that 27% of India does not have access to toilets. Government measures the success of TSC on input parameters – which is the number of toilets constructed. Not on ‘how many people are using it’ or how many people have ended open defecation. Experts believe that on the usage basis still more than 60-70% of India, defecates in open.

Shame on the roads

Go to any roadside village (at least I can bet for UP, Rajasthan, Bihar, MP, AP, Maharastra, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand & WB) in India in the evening. As soon as it gets dark you will be ashamed to see the women folk and girls, hiding them from your car’s light, as they wait eagerly for the sun to set to answer the natures call. As a result, they develop multiple infections, girls drop out of school after 7-8th grade because of non-functional toilets in the schools, the bacteria travels home through footwear and lead to various health issues for the whole family.

Subsidy that’s not working

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Lack of public participation in sanitation schemes is a big social hurdle

Under TSC, government gives subsidy of around Rs 2200 to BPL families and Rs 1500 to APL families to build toilets. In Uttar Pradesh, the government gives Rs 4500 to BPL families in Ambedkar villages (special villages selected every year in all districts in UP for focused development). A robust, long lasting traditional individual toilet costs between Rs 4000 to Rs 5000. In many cases, pradhan (sarpanch) and other officials of Panchayati Raj department (TSC comes under PRI in many states) syphon this money, without constructing any toilets or by constructing a shoddy unusable structure. Villagers don’t protest much against this misappropriation, as they are not quite inclined to use toilets because of their long held habit of defecating in open. More often than not, the villagers use the toilet structures for various different purposes, but for defecating. I have seen toilets being used for storing cow dung-cakes, being used as a kitchen, for storing agriculture produce, fertilizers etc.

Can Subsidy address social apprehensions?

Villagers also report some other apprehensions to have toilets built in their houses. Some families have a notion that it’s not auspicious to have a toilet with in the house premises, some says they feel claustrophic to defecate in the toilet, some says toilet needs a lot of water vs. defecating in open and in many orthodox families father-in-law and daughter-in-law can’t use the same toilet. These apprehensions are not always tied with the economic status of the family. I have observed these apprehensions not only in the poor households but also in the households with more than 40 acres of fertile land. So a mere subsidy under TSC can’t change these complex social apprehensions. It needs very carefully designed messaging, suitable for the rural culture to promote usage of toilets and latrines. The 15% IEC (Information, Education and Communication) money, meant for this purpose is either syphoned off swiftly or sometimes used merely in some wall paintings and occasional messaging through folklore. The scientifically designed social frameworks like CLTS (community lead total sanitation), to do focused village level workshops in community and create disgust against defecating in open, do not have many takers against the subsidy based, Total Sanitation Campaign.

Niramal Gram Puraskar is not very ‘Nirmal’

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To motivate the panchayats, the Ministry has also been awarding the ‘Nirmal Gram Puraskar’ (Clean Village Award) since 2003. Rewards are based on the population ranging from Rs 45,000 to Rs 5 lakhs. There was a dramatic increase from 45 Nirmal Grams in 2005 to 5,000 in 2007. Currently, more than 30,000 Panchayats have applied for the award. These figures look impressive but most of these villages, which received this award in previous years, staged 100% ‘open defecation free’ fabric of their village on the days of inspection to get the prize money. Visit to any of these nirmal grams (clean villages) today and one will observe the dismal situation on the field.

Sanitation promoters not even able to motivate themselves

Village level ‘Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA)’ working under health ministry’s flagship program, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) are also supposed to play the role of a promoter to motivate people not to defecate in open. She is even incentivized for this (Rs. 40 per toilet constructed based on her persuasion). But more often than not, you will find that ASHAs don’t have toilet themselves in their houses and thus fails to set an example. Same is the case with the elected representatives to head the villages – pradhans/sarpanchs, many of whom don’t have toilets in their houses and thus hardly care for the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) at the village level.

‘Nirmal India’ is eluding us !

Complete failure in universal sanitation is becoming a health nightmare and in turn substantially high health burden on the exchequer. Government needs to completely redesign the TSC program. TSC needs restructuring and should largely focus on igniting and facilitating the change in the long held habit of defecating in open. First step can be to work closely with the change agents of the village – the ASHAs, the Anganwadis, the Pradhans and the primary school teachers to bring about this huge change in the mindsets of people. The IEC money should be well spent in educating people through models like CLTS. Mere subsidies and budget enhancements will not give us a ‘nirmal India’.

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