As the name suggests ODF War Room in Cooch Behar is the place where the district administration plans and builds strategies for their war against open defecation. Operated from 4-5.30 pm each day, the unit which is present in every block and also at the District headquarters is manned by several staff that connects with field workers for regular updates and feedback. In turn, they motivate natural leaders and volunteers.
“Headed by a senior nodal officer, the ODF War Room gives special focus and thrust to the Swachh Bharat Mission and ensures that we implement our plans on war footing,” explained District Magistrate, P. Ulaganathan. “The time dedicated to the ODF war room is called ‘Nirmal Hour’ and what is happening is a real wonder,” he added, explaining that the team calls every pradhan, sabha pathy, volunteer, community facilitator to monitor their work and receive feedback. Intervention is organized for any challenges that crop up.
The district which is the chicken neck that connects the North East to the rest of India has the longest Bangladesh border of West Bengal where more than 50% of the people belong to the SC community. More than 50% of the population in the backward and remote area is below poverty line.
On December-9, a Nirmal Prabhat (sanitation morning) was observed. It involved a gandhigiri (truth is conveyed in an affectionate and peaceful manner) starting at 5 am – where officers from the district administration, panchayat officials, natural leaders, volunteers, youth, members of SHGs, NGOs, ASHA went to homes across the district, reaching as many as 3,09,080 households to convince people about good sanitation practices.
In the process they took over 20,000 photographs and took 2.5 lakh signatures which indicated people’s commitment to the campaign. The event which saw also the participation of religious organizations, NGOs and Youth was planned 10 days in advance. During their walk through the villages, any sign of open defecation was covered with soil. It was a massive interpersonal communication exercise with a strong message to people to use their toilets. The message was simple: if all people used their toilets, they would be assured of good health, general well being. The move would also protect the dignity of women who are often vulnerable to attacks while defecating in the open.
Nirmal Prabhat was completed coordinated by the war room which planned in advance the logistics, signature campaign while interventions were carried out by the DM. Another innovation by the team in Cooch Behar is Nirmal Chai. Under this, SBM officials visit as many homes as they can and then sit at a tea stall at a market place. As people gather around, the leader engages in a discussion about water quality and how open defecation might lead to people consuming impurities through their chai or tea. Going by the reactions they have received so far, Nirmal Chai provides an ideal triggering moment.
Another activity that is eagerly looked forward to by the communities is the Jan Sabha. This is a gathering of 3000 to 4000 ladies from SHGs, anganwadis, ASHA, etc who engage in a dialogue with the district magistrate at regular intervals. During the 2-hour long session, questions are asked and effective triggering happens on a large scale. “It has a ripple effect when the ladies return to their homes and localities and spread the sanitation message,” Ulaganathan said.
According to the DM when the SBM was first started on the sanitary mart model in October 2014, several toilets were built, but people did not feel the need to use them. To address this, they used the CLTS approach where they triggered the community. “We would personally visit the villages and identify natural leaders,” he said. The movement has gathered so much momentum that now the huge pool of volunteers themselves organize rallies and monitor construction work.
According to the baseline survey of 2012, Cooch Behar had 58% toilet coverage and needed 2.7 lakh toilets. Although there is now 100% toilet coverage, the households left out during the survey and new households have to be catered to. “As long as we carry out our intensive IEC plans, build the last lot of toilets and change mindset effectively, the district will be declared ODF in January 2017,” the DM assured.