Sanitation drive in full swing in Maharashtra
By Vidya Kulkarni“Initially we just couldn’t relate the significance of sanitation to our everyday lives. We looked at it as an imposition and were reluctant to take it up. However once we realized the undeniable benefits of hygiene and cleanliness we decided to get involved in the Total Sanitation Campaign”, openly admits Rajendra Bhamre, a Gram Panchayat member from Khedgoan in Nashik district in Maharashtra.
The change in mindset has led to improved sanitation and also to securing the honour of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar for the village, this year.
Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) is a comprehensive programme launched by the Government of India to ensure sanitation facilities in rural areas, with a broader goal to eradicate the practice of open defecation. Nirmal Gram Puraskar, which was initiated under TSC on 2nd October 2003, is an incentive scheme to recognize the role of Panchayats and to motivate them to promote rural sanitation. In 2007, a total 1974 Gram Panchayats have received the award in Maharashtra.
A board announcing the status of ‘open defecation free village’ placed at the village entrance showcases Khedgoan’s achievement. This village, with a population of 847 people, in Nasik district, has worked single mindedly over the last one and a half years to change its environment.
“The biggest challenge was to convince the community to invest in the construction of toilets. Why would anyone agree to spend on something that is not a priority and which comes free of cost? People in the village were quite used to utilizing open spaces and village approach roads for defecation. Nobody was really bothered about health hazards all these entailed,” recounts Rajendra Bhamre. This initial hurdle was overcome through an effective awareness campaign carried out with the help of a motivated team from the district TSC cell. The team, under the leadership of the district TSC cell coordinator, Rajendra Mali, convinced villagers on sanitation and hygiene related behavioral changes.
Simultaneous to this awareness campaign, motivated community members chalked out a plan to mobilize resources to carry out activities for village cleanliness. Some well-off community members volunteers to donate seed money for initial collective purchase of construction material. With this seed fund and credit facility, bricks and cement were purchased and then offered on credit to villagers.
Contribution by motivated individuals to encourage savings also gave a fillip to collective spirit. The village barber’s salon will run free-of-charge hair cut service for all children for a period of one year. Similarly the village priest announced that he would charge nothing to poor households for performing religious rituals!
Toilet construction was carried out in stages by those who could not afford to spend immediately. The basic toilet structure with a pit, platform and pot was properly constructed, while walls, roof and doors were made out of local material.
A large community garbage pit was built to collect household solid waste, which was segregated and used for vermi-composting. The manure was purchased by local farmers creating an additional source of income for the gram panchayat.
Soak pits constructed in front of every house have managed the problem of wastewater altogether. Within eight months - June 2005 to January 2006 - all 150 households owned an individual toilet.
In the next phase, emphasis was placed on stopping open defecation completely. Rajendra Bhamre informed, “The gram sabha decided to fine people found defecating in open spaces. Similarly a reward was announced to those who identified and reported such happenings. Mere setting up of this monitoring system proved enough to take care of any slip-ups. We never really had to fine anyone.” What is more significant is that success in this collective endeavor encouraged the Khedgoan community to make plans of new development projects for their village.
The role of the district TSC cell has been extremely important in providing and sustaining momentum to the sanitation drive. Rajendra Mali, Coordinator of TSC cell said, “Since TSC follows the principle of ‘low to no subsidy’, the success of the programme mainly rests on an effective IEC campaign for awareness building and social mobilization.”
“UNICEF as one of the key partners along with the state government has provided crucial technical, capacity building and IEC support to the district TSC cell for carrying out multifarious activities” highlights the TSC coordinator.
The TSC cell has trained and motivated teachers and panchayat workers to take active part in sanitation campaigns in their respective villages and to provide cost-effective options for sanitation and keeping the environment clean. As a result of the cell’s persistent team work total 33 Grampanchayats from Nashik district have received Nirmal Gram Puraskar this year.