Kerala is set to add another first to its credit by eliminating open defecation. The tiny state which tops India in most human health indices is expected to achieve the new milestone by the end of this month.
The Communist-led government that undertook the programme under the Swachh Bharat Campaign of the Central government has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to formally declare Kerala as an open defecation free (ODF) state on the 61st formation day of the state on 1 November.
This will make Kerala the second state in the country to become open defecation free.
So far, only Sikkim has achieved this distinction. With a population of just over six lakhs, Sikkim is one of the smallest states whereas Kerala having a population of 3.3 crore is among the most populous states.
Though Modi’s plan to eliminate open defecation from the country by building 13.04 crore individual household toilets and five lakh community and public toilets by 2019 failed to gain traction in most states, Kerala made most of it by adopting changes suiting local conditions.
More than 97 percent houses in Kerala already had toilets. The Suchithwa Mission, which is implementing the campaign, needed to add only 1.9 lakh toilets to declare Kerala as ODF state. However, the task posed huge challenges to the implementing agency as the houses without toilets situated in critical areas, where conventional toilets were not possible.
Suchitwa Mission officials said majority of the houses without toilets were found to be in coastal and hilly areas of the state. While high density of population and sea erosion made the task difficult in coastal areas, lack of water was found to be the major impediment in tribal areas.
The Suchitwa Mission sought to solve the problems in coastal areas by going for elevated toilets and community toilets. Though the technical problems were solved to a large extent, changing the mindset of people, who are used to open defecation, posed a big challenge.
The implementing agency sought the service of religious organisations in bringing about a behavioural change in the people. Suchitwa Mission Executive Director Dr K Vasuki told the Firstpost that the Latin Catholic Church, which has huge influence among fishermen in coastal areas, played a big role in facilitating construction of toilets in the coastal areas.
The social service wing of the three Catholic Church not only fielded members of its nearly 50,000 self-help groups to create awareness among people about the need for toilets but also lent land, human resources and materials to make the campaign a success, Dr Vasuki said.
Another major problem faced by the implementing agency was inadequacy of funds fixed for building the toilets. The scheme envisaged a joint fund consisting of central grant worth Rs 12,000 and a local body contribution of Rs 3,400. Suchitwa Mission officials said this was insufficient in critical areas with tough geographical terrains.
Ameersha RS, a programme officer of the Suchitwa Mission, said that the cost of the toilets in such areas was more than double the amount fixed by the government. The Suchitwa Mission had identified 39,120 such toilets. Many of them required additional expenditure of more than Rs 25,000.
Though the scheme envisaged the beneficiary to meet the remaining expenditure, the beneficiaries who belonged to the poor strata were not ready to bear it. The Suchitwa Mission tried to tap CSR funds available with public and private sector companies but their contribution was not sufficient to meet the requirements.
Finally, the state government came to the rescue of the Suchitwa Mission. It made available the entire additional funds through the local bodies giving a big boost to the programme. The government allowed the local bodies to provide the fund from their plan funds.
“We have completed 90 per cent of the 1.90 lakh toilets we need to build to free the state from open defecation. The construction of the remaining 10 percent is in final stages. We will complete this before the end of October so that the state could be declared open defecation free.” Vasuki said.
Vasuki said the task to end the open defecation menace will not be over by simply constructing the toilets. She said that the state will be free from open defecation only if the people use the toilets.
“This is not an easy task. It is difficult to change the mindset of people have been traditionally depending on open space for satisfying the call of the nature. We need sustained efforts to change their habit,” Vasuki said.
She said that the Suchitwa Mission had sought the service of students of schools of social work to conscientise the people about the need to use toilets. The Association of Schools of Social Work in Kerala, which has 46 colleges under it, has agreed to run a campaign in this regard. The Social Service Forum of the Catholic Church has also extended support to the campaign.
Following the completion of the ODF campaign, the Suchitwa Mission will take up construction of toilets in public places. Vasuki said they were planning to make toilet facility available throughout the state by constructing comfort stations in every one km in collaboration with tourism department and other stake holders.
The open defecation free programme will be followed by intensification of the campaign to make Kerala India’s cleanest state with 100 per cent sanitation. Vasuki said Suchitwa Mission was fully geared to transform Kerala a waste free aesthetic state with clean environment, better public health, enhanced hygiene consciousness and quality infrastructure.
Sikkim has already achieved this distinction. Kerala was found following Sikkim closely behind in cleanliness in the national sample survey report released last month.
The state was also found leading in waste management capabilities in the Swatch Bhart rankings in 2015 with Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi figuring on the top 10 and Kozhikode coming fifth in the ranking for the other major cities.
Kochi came fourth and Thiruvananthapuram eighth in the rankings, which were based on extent of open defecation and solid waste management practices. Swatch Bharat Mission officials feel that the ODF campaign will give Kerala a strong foundation to achieve other goals in total sanitation.
They hope that Kerala will become the best place to live in India when it completes the 100 percent sanitation campaign.