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Sanitation, Not Toilets, Will Make India Clean

The approach adopted under the current Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) focuses on Clean India through physical construction of toilets, Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) activities and making gram panchayats Open Defecation Free (ODF). Such activities cannot on their own achieve the ambitious target of a Swachch Bharat by 2 October 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Along with physical infrastructure, households and communities need to demand delivery of sanitation as a basic service. An equally important concern is the lack of accountability under the framework. Neither the guidelines nor the nodal ministry (Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation) have designated accountability of individuals or institutions in case of poor performance of Mission objectives.

The question of accountability is critical in view of the investment (in terms of money, human resources and technology) that is required to achieve the substantial targets. To attain SBM objectives, government is either relying on ‘babus’ (who have limited sensitivity towards community objectives) or on corporates (who have a clear motive to promote their business). Historically, both have exhibited limited faith in indigenous knowledge and of community involvement in implementing programmes at the local level, in spite of constitutional provisions which specify social inclusion and people’s planning.

PRIA’s recent intervention in Chhattisgarh of involving the community in attaining the ODF goal shows the way in which communities, with the active engagement of youth, women, elected representatives, panchayat officials and citizen leaders, can demand sanitation and take on the responsibility of ensuring their gram panchayats remain clean and sanitary. In partnership with Water Aid, this initiative was undertaken simultaneously across 81 gram panchayats covering 7000 households in Raipur and Ambikapur districts. The approach of stimulating demand and need from the community for sanitation, rather than mere construction of toilets, was adopted for the first time in Chhattisgarh.

Community engagement centres around discussions related to local development concerns, including those for water and sanitation. Participation by the community, in particular the youth and women, provides sustainable, long-term solutions for sanitation. Folk art, drama and songs in the local language are used to provide information and stimulate discussions.

A key aspect in eliminating open defecation is awareness raising, behaviour change campaigns and increasing political will. The training, in four phases, of grassroots level workers, such asswachhata doots, anganwadi workers and mitanins, provided by PRIA placed particular focus on ending open defecation by "triggering" the communities into action. More than 17000 people within the target area were made aware of the need for behaviour change. Increase in hygiene and sanitation is already being observed.

Target communities were also encouraged and supported to prepare village sanitation plans with the objective of achieving ODF panchayats. Such plans have been prepared in all  81 gram panchayats. Anganwadi workers, education volunteers, health workers, employment assistants, new/old gram panchayat members and members of village water and sanitation committees developed the detailed plans, including village level sanitation information, accumulating costs, coverage and gaps. All plans have been approved by respective gram sabhas.

A key innovation in preparation of these plans was the use of GPS mapping to capture information on the accessibility and use of toilets in public places. GPS machines were used to locate the boundaries of a particular village and to understand the condition of toilets in and outside important locations like schools, hospitals, gram panchayat offices, bus stops, etc. In future, these GPS maps will be used to draft plans for solid and liquid waste management in these gram panchayats.

The innovations in community planning promoted by PRIA was appreciated by the state government of Chhattisgarh. During Swachhta Week organised between 16 and 22 March 2015, the Zila Panchayat of Raipur acknowledged the work being done by PRIA and its partners and showcased the GPS maps prepared by the communities in a document published for the occasion.

Building on this positive pilot effort, PRIA, Water Aid and Government of Chhattisgarh in partnership are implementing a major programme for delivery of sanitation in two districts (Sarguja and Raipur) over the next few years.

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