In 2011, although 60% of the people in West Bengal’s most populated district of Malda had toilets, a whopping 72% continued to defecate in the open. To address this alarming situation which had implications on health of the communities, Mission Nirmal Bangla under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) resolved to make sanitation a priority.
Taking a leaf out of Nadia’s story, the district administration made it a mass movement, appealing to the people sense of responsibility for nature, health and well being of the community.
With a view to making sanitation a people’s movement rather than make it a traditional subsidy led, supply driven development approach, the District Collector mobilized key stakeholders and launched the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach with support from professional organizations.
After some initial resistance, people gradually joined the movement and built their own toilet not requiring any incentive.
Malda which borders Bangladesh and located on the banks of River Ganga is famous for Mango and Litchi plantations. The district with a four million-strong population earns significantly from horticulture and is successful in many areas with the exception of poor sanitation practices which were a socially accepted norm.
In fact, poor hygiene and sanitation coupled with water pollution often resulted in disease and child mortality was a grave concern.
As the SBM (G) message went around all across the district, at first three Gram Panchayats were declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) in December 2015. This proved that the approach was successful and increased confidence among the stakeholders.
To reward those communities for their efforts, the District administration reciprocated by offering them benefits of various rural development schemes of the government during an event called ‘Nirmal Utsav.’ More than anything, this increased their faith in the government programme and leadership.
The district administration is now planning to use the same community led approach to make the entire district of Malda ODF by 2018. To this end, trained community facilitators have drawn women and men from the GPs to organise community mobilisation activities primarily triggering and follow-up to ensure that all households in the district have access to sanitary toilets and use them.
In addition, Para Nazardari committees have been constituted involving NGOs which will monitor the use of toilets and sustain the ODF status even as they develop a system of social governance.
Interestingly, the local cultural troops as also faith leaders are supporting efforts to create an enabling environment to stop open defecation in Malda.