Will Swacch Bharat Abhiyan succeed?

India saw a long chain of efforts to eradicate open defecation. It is a shame that even after such sustained efforts around 60 crore people (>50% population) defecate in open. It is said that around a 1000 lives are lost every day because of diarrhea for which open defecation is a major reason.

With effect from 1 April 1999, the Government of India restructured the Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme and launched the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which was later (on 1 April 2012) renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). Thousands of Nirmal Bharat Puruskar were distributed. Most of the Panchayats who received the award have regressed back to open defecation. In my city (Aurangabad, Bihar) – 56000 toilets have been constructed till now by PHED department under different schemes with an expenditure of 23 crore rupees. 

On 2 October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, which aims to eradicate open defecation by 2019, thus restructuring the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Truthfully, I was very skeptical about this programme for a long time. It is only very recently that I have started participating in the programme. And I can tell you that this is one of the best programmes to work in the development sector. It helps me work with the people at the ground level. Now, let me get down to some misconceptions which I had about this programme.

  1. I thought that people will not change their habits easily. However I found that people respond well to trigger when approached systematically. The CLTS approach is intended to provoke people to think about the harms they are doing to their children, especially their daughters by continuing to defecate in open. They are provoked by playing a kind of drama in the public. Public is asked to drink water from a bisleri bottle. They are then shown how flies sit on excreta and sits on water or food. Using a straw, tiny amount of excreta is mixed with water which is then offered to all. Obviously, no one drinks it. But they realise the point we want to convey. Most of the people get immediately ready to begin construction of the toilets in their homes.
  2. People have some land to construct toilets. They all have bathrooms in their homes where they take bath. A toilet can be constructed partitioning that space.
  3. People have water source within 10-20 meters in my district. Almost all women take bath at home for which they require at least 20 liters of water each. For other domestic requirements also, they need water in plenty. If they can fetch that much of water, they can surely take 2 mugs extra for use in toilet. It should be noticed that the rural toilet pans require only 2 mugs of water at the maximum including for self rinsing.
  4. There are always some motivated people who think for their village. They volunteer to become Vigilante committee members and go to the field every day morning to sound whistle at anyone seen defecating or going to do that. This causes great embarrassment to these people. People defecate in open because they know that every body else is doing that. When they realise that not many people are doing it they start feeling embarrassed.
  5. In SBA also, money is paid by the government after the toilet is constructed. So, many argue that people do not have the capacity to spend that much beforehand. Actually, people can do that easily or they get material on loan for a period of 10-15 days given that there is a surety of time payment by the government officials.
  6. The government officials are generally slow in processing the subsidy request but not in SBA where monitoring is tight and regular progress in disbursal is to be shown. We achieved disbursal to all 96 beneficiaries in one village in less than 15 days.
  7. There are simple techniques which have to be kept in mind to avoid a situation in which the constructed toilets remain unused. It happens also because of that facts that toilets are not friendly to be used in all weathers. I asked people to build toilets with clay tiles rather than tin sheets. This makes them air and smell free. Further, people were asked to leave small ventilation holes in all walls so as to make the toilets more usable. I asked people to make cheap doors using oil tins which costs them only Rs 60. This way they can save around Rs 1000 which also acts as a motivation for them. The two pit toilets can be easily constructed in less than 11,000 rupees.

Toilet Construction

Overall, we were successful in making 2 villages open defecation free in just 20-25 days. These villages are Parsa and Sinduriya in Rajpur Panchayat in Nabinagar block. I have visited these villages are regular intervals and found that the momentum is carried forward and the village is still OD free.

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Memorable moments with Honorable PM

pm meet

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi in group photograph with the youth who have been working in rural areas under Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows (PMRDF) scheme, in New Delhi on February 08, 2016. The Union Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Shri Chaudhary Birender Singh, the Minister of State for Rural Development, Shri Sudarshan Bhagat and the Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, Shri J.K. Mohapatra are also seen. I am also seen in the back row.

Prime Minster Shri Narendra Modi Ji swept us all away in a 2 hour interaction session that we had on Feb 08 in DRDO Bhawan, Delhi. The PM connected so well with us that all of us felt touched. The Prime Minster was spot on when he expressed that his fellows must be facing dilemma by being different in a materialistic world. He said that you guys have to keep your emotions under check every day when you see others buying new cars or new mobiles, ie living comfortable lives while you guys are struggling in the hinterland of the country. He wondered how worried mothers of girls fellows must be after sending their daughters to these troubled areas.

The Prime Minister also talked about the fact that when all of us wrote letters to him not even one complained. He said that even CMs always present a memo of demand first then talk anything else. He specifically asked us to apprise him about the challenges we face in the districts of posting. He also expressed worry about our experiences not being put to effective use. He said that we will devise a mechanism where we can report directly to the PMO. That would be a great thing to happen!

The Prime Minister also mesmerized us by remembering names of many fellows. He called many fellows by their first names during his speech which is like a huge honour for the programme which was languishing in past some time because of the lack of support at the top most level. The very next day, we got to meet the Joint secretary PMO in this regard.

Overall, the Prime Minister showed again how he is different from other dignitaries. The fact that he concerns for our problems alleviates our pain. The fact that he did so much homework before taking a meeting with us showed how hardworking he is and that inspired us to put in more and more efforts from our side. If the Prime Minister of India can work for 16 hours a day why can’t we? After all, we are his fellows 🙂