South 24 Parganas is a huge district with a population of around 9 million with larger challenges of geographical diversity. Extending from the Kolkata metropolitan areas to the dozens of inaccessible mangrove islands of Sunderbans, it has urban, semi-urban and extremely remote and rural areas all in one district, which makes it incredibly challenging for any kind of social transformation.
According to District Magistrate, Dr. P B Salim, the district followed the modified-CLTS model which was perfected in Nadia in its efforts to transform into an open defecation free (ODF) district. “Strong community participation, communication and convergence were key elements that led to the success of our campaign,” he said.
Given his pioneering efforts in Nadia, making it the 1st ODF district of the country, the district team drew from that experience in South 24 Parnagas. “We took a comprehensive approach towards cleanliness under the programme called ‘Sundarini’ with three clear areas of focus: making the district ODF (Amar Shouchagar); improving the health indices of the district (Anandi) and Nutrition (Aarohan),” the DM said.
The strategy adopted was the same for all the three programmes i.e. a modified CLTS model. For the initial six months the programme focussed entirely on community level triggering and setting up a social base for the movement for ensuring participation of all sections of the society. Special focus was made on ensuring participation of seven sections of the society: school teachers and students; SHG women; faith based organisations and leaders; field level health workers; Anganwari workers; youth organisations and club members; three tier Panchayati Raj Institutions.
Once the movement was ready at village/GP levels, with active participation and leadership from this social group, it was only a matter of time to reach our target, the DC explained. In the process, they focussed equally on: demand generation; supply chain management; resource mobilisation; and intensive supervision and monitoring.
Over the course of two years, the administration was able to saturate every household with access to toilets and ensure their usage. In this, they received active support and guidance from UNICEF and the department.
During construction of toilets, the district covered all the households including those whose names were left out of the baseline survey, using MGNREGS fund. Asked about government subsidy, Dr. Salim said that the community triggering was so intensive and participative that around 57,871 toilets were constructed by individuals without taking any subsidy support from the government.
“In the process we have provided around 7, 10,590 toilets, the highest number of toilets provided in any district under the SBM programme in India,” he said. This comprises of a total of 5,77,486 toilets constructed for the households found without toilets during the baseline survey; 67,129 for households from outside baseline survey; 8,104 IHHLs for urban households and 57,871 IHHLS constructed through individual efforts.
Significantly, the district also covered the migrant population by providing around 541 toilets in fringe areas such as brickfields, riversides, roadside dhabas etc. and another 147 community toilets to make the district clean.
It needs mention that the Government completed the verification and authentication of ODF process by third party agencies, besides a number of internal verification and authentication measures. During this period as per the third party authentication, the usage had gone up from a mere 62% to 99.9%. Based on such findings, the district was declared as the 5th ODF district of the state of West Bengal on 7th March 2017, amid a colourful function attended by a large number of dignitaries from the Government and UNICEF.
As for the Anandi initiative, it has been declared as a model project by the State Government for replication in other parts of the State. By following the same model, during the same period the institutional delivery had increased from a mere 62% to 93% and immunisation from 67% to 95%. And the number of severely acute malnourished children (SAM) went down from 10.540 to 2,720 during the same period.
As in Nadia, sustainability has been built into the system by making the movement community-led. In the entire process, the socially committed and triggered volunteers from various sections of the society formed the execution core and stand as the best guarantee for its sustainability in the days to come.
Along with it, the PNCs (Para Najardari Committees – the village level volunteer committees) formed in every village of the district with volunteers from the seven sections of the society as mentioned earlier had taken the responsibility of social governance to ensure sustainability. The PNCs continue to do morning najardari and vigil in every village on a daily basis to sustain the pride of their village (the cleanliness), which they have achieved through toil and hard work, Dr. Salim said.