Porbandar, the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi, was declared open defecation free (ODF) on his 147th birth anniversary on 2nd October, 2016. People now have access to sanitation facilities in all the three blocks of the district which come under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).
“The state government has been emphasizing the slogan ‘Mann Banao, Souchalay Banao’ (meaning ‘determine to construct toilet’); and hence the same idea was replicated by the state government officers and the partner organisation Tata Water Mission (Gujarat team) in the districts,” said District Project Coordinator, Vijay Goswami.
During the period, district officers laid stones for 9,584 toilets and completed the construction of all those toilets, he added.
In the run up to actual construction, orientation and capacity building programmes were conducted for Sarpanchs, Talatis (village accountants), school teachers, local masons, Anganwadi workers, SHG members, SPC (police cadets) students, local water committees, Swachchhata Shipli women, school students and college students between June and September 2016.
In addition, there were workshops and different kinds of training events focusing on Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach. This generated demand for toilets among people who understood the benefits of safe sanitation practices on health and general well-being.
As far as challenges are concerned, Porbandar has a total of 149 villages of which, the land in 64 villages has hard rock strata. Under the circumstances, it was a problem to dig soak pits using manual labour. Pits had to be dug with the help of machinery which saved time, effort and energy, although increased expense slightly. In order to meet the goal, district authorities used 57 such machines from different agencies including those from other districts and worked 24X7 to complete the job.
Households of impoverished women and elderly people needed additional support to build toilets. In this regard, the block panchayats and Tata Trusts signed MoUs with Self Help Groups to provide revolving fund, materials and machinery. This went a long way to help the marginalised families to construct toilets on time.
Another roadblock was the belief in religious myths. A section of rural people believed that construction of toilets would adversely affect them. They feared they would encounter problems such as shortage of space and water, and frequent filling up of soak pits. In this, triggering exercises helped immensely to dispel misconceptions.
The success of the campaign can be attributed to leadership within the district. Other than the District Collector and District Development Officer, 52 officers, 32 class-1 officers and 20 class-II officers were deputed to monitor the village level progress on a daily basis and solve local issues that arose. Each of the officers assigned to 2-3 villages each, participated in the morning follow-up along with the Nigrani Samitis. They facilitated supply of construction material and other support, as and when required. Responsible for the entire programmatic development of their villages, they often stayed overnight and organised village level meetings at night to guide the community in making their village ODF.
Further, review meetings were held by a team comprising of a senior officer from the State, the District Collector and DDO each day after 4 PM to evaluate progress. It certainly helped resolve any problems that occurred while providing additional support where needed. At times, the core team visited villages to sort out specific issues at village level.
Team Porbandar worked on mission mode as it inspired officers from every department to offer their dedicated service.