Home to some of the country’s most scenic towns and villages, Himachal Pradesh (HP) situated on the Western Himalayas was the second state in the country to be declared open defecation free (ODF) on 28th October 2016. The achievement could be attributed to their active and enthusiastic Mahila Mandals (women’s groups) who actively carry out all sanitation related activities that have contributed to both social and economic progress of the communities.
Reflecting on the ODF journey, State Coordinator, Mr. Sanjay Bhagwati said that changing traditional sanitation practices of yore was the toughest challenge. In this regard, the State conducted various awareness building exercises to bring about the desired behavior change. Furthermore, new initiatives and activities had to be introduced consistently to sustain people’s interest and keep the momentum going, given that some people were skeptical of government programmes.
The region also saw a floating population that arrived in the state seasonally in search of employment. To cater to this segment, sanitation facilities had to be constructed and made accessible. Also in certain pockets where drinking water was scarce, sanitation was not a priority. This therefore had to be organized before people could even think of sanitation.
One aspect that ensured relatively rapid construction of all household toilets was the state policy to provide incentive in one go – only after completion of toilet.
Having been declared ODF, the State has initiated certain activities to sustain the ODF status. Among them are the institution of state reward schemes for gram panchayats (GPs), schools and Mahila Mandals. Each year, awards are presented to GPs by the Chief Minister during a state function. Such awards are a source of motivation to the Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) as well as Mahila Mandals which have taken over cleaning of public spaces in several villages.
As in other states, there were some households left out of the baseline survey of 2012. All these individual household toilets were covered under MNGREGA. As for dysfunctional toilets, all of them were completed before the state was declared ODF.
In addition, with a view to identifying toilets with single pits or those with septic tanks which need retrofitting (installation of additional pit for single pit toilets and ensuring septic tanks were attached to soak pits), an extensive survey has been planned and it will be started soon, Mr. Bhagwati said. Having completed first ODF verification earlier, the 2nd round of verification is expected to start soon.
With regard to solid and liquid waste management (SLWM), it is still in its nascent stage in HP. In the coming years, efforts will be intensified to result in substantial progress. In the meantime, communities are being made aware of the importance of managing waste. For starters, the State has issue standard operating procedure for SLWM plan preparation, asking all GPs to form clusters and come out with their village specific plans. They have been oriented about soak pits and vermi compost pits. In addition, cluster level training cum workshops have been organised for GPs, PRIs/officials on ways to implement SLWM programmes.
Both PRIs and rural communities have realized that toilet usage and maintenance is a prerequisite to any sanitation schemes. This has ensured 100% usage of toilets.