In mid 2017, the sanitation status of Punjab’s Tarn Taran district was dismal to say the least. Not only did it rank last among all the districts of the State, it also had just a few open defecation free (ODF) villages. Hence the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Mr. Pardeep Kumar Sabharwal who took over the reins of the district on 28th June, 2017 had a gigantic task ahead of him.
“We ranked 22, the last in the State and only 13 villages of the total 468 were declared ODF at that time,” the DC said. Further, as many as 39,000 toilets had to be built as per the baseline survey carried out in 2012.
Complicating matters further was the validation process of beneficiaries which was at a standstill. Only 199 gram panchayats out of 549 were validated by the Gram Sabhas even though the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) was launched almost three years earlier on 2nd October, 2014.
The DC formed 70 teams of officers for verification and 30 teams for cross verification by drawing officers from various departments. These officers were allocated 5 villages each for which they had to complete verification in one month’s time. After cross verification, the demand for individual household toilets (IHHLs) amounted to 44,481.
To address this demand, 127 new swachhagrahis or motivators were deployed to carry forward the SBM momentum, as previously appointed motivators had left their work owing to a lull in IHHL construction.
“Constructing around 44,000 toilets to achieve ODF status before 21st December, 2017 was close to impossible,” Mr. Sabharwal recalled.
He then came up with the innovative idea of appointing ex-servicemen as volunteers to identify people who continued to defecate in the open because of the absence of toilets in their homes. They identified 5628 families who had no toilets at home, while a few other beneficiaries were using shared toilets. If they had to declare the district ODF, they had to give priority to the 5628 homes.
In the meantime, they began mass construction of 12,630 toilets across the district. By 26th December, 2017, they had completed construction of 6490 toilets, including 5268 toilets for homes without toilets.
Simultaneously, various IEC activities designed by the Ministry were undertaken at the appropriate time with the support of the Departments of Education and Rural Development. In fact, SBM gradually became a household name with huge participation of people from all walks of life. Besides, as many as 549 nigrani committees were in operation that joined ex-servicemen volunteers and motivators to ensure that no household without access to a toilet was left out from the mass construction movement. Further, through awareness building, they ensured that no person who had a toilet at home went out to defecate in the open.
Owing to collective efforts of various stakeholders from the Departments of Sanitation, Rural Development and Education and also the District Administration the district was declared ODF on 29th December, 2017.
Having come thus far, the district officials now endeavour to construct the balance IHHLs so that sharing is reduced to zero and every family would have their own individual toilets by the end of December 2018.