Bhubaneswar: For Odisha, which has consistently figured in the list of worst places in India when it comes to access to toilets, some startling success stories have emerged from a few villages of this laggard state.
To encourage and incentivise people into using toilets, a silent and innovative revolution has been slowly brewing in some villages of its Deogarh and Jharsuguda districts – declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Residents, along with district officials, here have not only focused on the number of toilets constructed but bolstered efforts to bring forth behavioural changes in people.
Creating ownership of toilets
As per government statistics, Odisha has a record low of 54.89 percent sanitation coverage. A staggering challenge which officials and volunteers in the state have often faced is to persuade communities to bring about developmental changes themselves, break age-old habits of going to the toilet outside their homes. One way of countering this was to make the lavatory their own and not merely a 'product' of government schemes.
In 2017, members of the Lulang panchayat in Deogarh district began an innovative fight with the 'My Toilet Campaign'. Residents of several villages were encouraged to decorate outer walls of their toilets with beautiful drawings. What that did, in effect, was to create a sense of ownership over the toilets and inspire communities to actually use them.
"Toilets constructed under SBM were earlier misused by beneficiaries as they thought these were only products of another government scheme, not to be utilised themselves. Villagers used latrines as storehouses to keep cow dung, firewood and fodder. There was no ownership value," said Kumuda Satpathy, a consultant for SBM in Deogarh, who also started this campaign.
A subsidised amount of Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000 (in case of SCs and STs) is given by the government to build toilets to individuals. The central government's share in the subsidy amount is Rs 9,000 (75 percent) and the state gives out Rs 3,000 (25 percent).
Satpathy attributes Deogarh's maidan ODF status primarily to innovations on the ground, strict vigilance by volunteers and motivated ground workers helping people change their habits. "Our plan had initially failed to kick-start. It was in the remote Similihata village of Reamal block in Deogarh where we surprisingly found success. Similihata became a model village for about 200 other hamlets after that," he added.
Anganwadi worker Padmini Pradhan from Similihata was the first to make ornate drawings of flowers and leaves on her toilet walls. She soon noticed how this simple step boosted usage of toilets, especially among children. "The painted toilets soon became a hit among the kids. They loved using these latrines. Many households not only in Similihata but also in neighbouring villages replicated this idea and painted toilets en masse," said Pradhan.
She further added that in some other villages such as Kirtanpali, Deojharan, Hariharpur, Ganuribani, Hrudapali, Laxmipur and Gudeimara, toilet ownership patterns improved substantially. Locals began using their abandoned commodes. Gram panchayat monitor Damarudhara Kumura also said that the exercise was being followed in about 200 other villages of Deogarh.
"The idea became so popular that almost all toilets in my village now have painted walls," said Malati Behera of Kirtanpali village.
'Remodelling' toilets, keeping diseases at bay
Along with paintings, another motivational measure used by Swachhagrahis (volunteers) was to alter the idea of a toilet being dirty to a unit that keeps infection and diseases at bay. Unused latrines which were otherwise overgrown with bushes have now been adorned with flower pots on the outside. The 'Nigrani (oversight) Committees' make sure that the toilet surroundings are kept clean and decorated.
"Our gram sabha had passed a resolution that anyone found defecating in the open will have to pay Rs 500 and a whistleblower will be paid Rs 250 per case. Those found flouting norms will also be publicly shamed. The oversight panel was roped in for vigilance. There isn't a single case of open defecation in our village now," said Jadumani Sahoo, a member of the oversight committee at Kirtanpali.
A visit to Similihata also throws light on how children here have been made aware of personal hygiene. Hand-washing after toilet usage and before consumption of food is something most kids here practice. Not only that, they also dispose of chocolate wrappers and other items into five big dustbins spread across the hamlet.
Sunita Gop, a Swachhagrahi, said awareness measures were a result of collective efforts by villagers and gram sabha members. "You can see how sanitation has led to fewer flies and mosquito breeding in the villages," she added.
Santosh Kumar Rout, former sarpanch of Kirtanpali, said several cases of diarrhoea, typhoid and other communicable diseases have dwindled in the past one year. "Changes on the ground are visible now. Fewer children fall prey to deadly diseases and deaths," told Rout.
District officials working at the Lulang panchayat further said that around 700 villages in both Deogarh and Jharsuguda have at least one Swachhagrahi to take care of sanitation measures.
The author is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
This is second of a two-part series on the ground realities of the Swachh Bharat Scheme in Odisha. Read the first part.
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Updated Date: May 24, 2018 14:40:37 IST