About 2 years ago, when someone entered a village in Agar Malwa district of Madhya Pradesh, they were likely to step on faeces that were on the roadsides and vacant spaces in the village. That’s how rampant open defecation was at that point of time.
In fact, when the district panchayat of Agar Malwa was formed on 1st April, 2015, although there were about 5000 toilets in the district, majority of them were dysfunctional. “We had to build more than 70,000 toilets,” said Collector and District Magistrate, Mr. Durg Vijay Singh.
Lack of awareness among the people and changing their habit of defecating in the open was the main challenge. Further, the district team which was rather small as it was a newly formed district, initially felt quite overwhelmed with the large number of toilets that had to be built with limited resources and making people use them.
Nevertheless to promote people’s participation, they began with motivating their officials at block and district levels through workshops on CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) organized at Shajapur. During those events, 191 masons were trained on toilet construction technologies. It led to target wise work plans after which construction of toilets began.
In addition, realizing the importance of CLTS, a 5 day training/orientation workshop was held at Model School for motivators, government officials, GRS, Secretaries, Sarpanchs, anganwadi and ASHA workers, members of Self Help Groups (SHGs), journalists, social workers, NSS, NCC, etc. This training by Mr. Manu Singh (Feedback Foundation) proved to be quite effective as it motivated people from all sections of the society, according to the DC.
At the beginning, the administration faced a lot of resistance. People were reluctant to use toilets let alone build them. In one of the blocks there were people who did not have any concept of washing themselves after defecation, and convincing those people to build toilets and use them was not easy, he added.
Enormous efforts were made to involve the community in the campaign. Soon after the CLTS training, pre-triggering, triggering and morning and evening follow-ups were carried out. This encouraged people to participate in the campaign. Also, Nigrani Samitis (Janaki Sena, Luv-Kush Sena, Nayak Sena) were formed, night meetings (Ratri Chaupaal) were organised in villages, and Mashaal Yatras were organised to pass the baton of ODF village to the non-ODF villages.
Bharat Mata Chunar Yatras specifically targeted the womenfolk who were encouraged to make a pledge to make their villages ODF. This gave some immediate results as it linked religious sentiments with cleanliness. Further, Jan-Abhiyan Parishad, SHG groups, Anganwadi and ASHA workers, and other government officials were motivated time and again through meetings and trainings. In this regard, the Regional Rural Development Training Centre in Ujjain helped them immensely.
Once the training was done, a Swachhta Rath was sent to villages and movies were screened to spread awareness among villagers about sanitation. Moreover, Sondhiya Sammelan was organised in Bijanagri Village, to motivate the Sondhiya community to build toilets as they were the most resistant to behaviour change. Towards the end, a 7 day Halla Bol programme was organised in the villages with the help of village level motivators and Nigrani Samitis, to promote building and usage of toilets. In addition, whistles and caps were distributed among children who were a part of the Nigrani Samiti and those who worked exceptionally well were also rewarded with sports kit and T-shirts.
While district officials applied sanctions on people who continued to defecate in the open; appointment of Swachhagrahis at GP level provided local aid and helped maintaining village level teams. What’s more, Swachhta Champions were rewarded monthly on the basis of their contribution towards achieving ODF status.
Officials also planted trees that were associated with religious values such as Tulsi, Peepal etc. near open defecation sites to prohibit people from defecating near them. Schools were instructed to integrate cleanliness practices in their syllabus in order for children to inculcate these in their behaviour.
While there were several inspiring incidents, a few swachhta champions standout – such as the differently-abled (divyang) girl in Susner block who motivated her village to become ODF; a Sarpanch who helped build 40 toilets in his village and also in the entire Agar block; and SHG members who helped make 5 villages ODF and were used as chief motivators in villages. Some of these women were felicitated at the Women’s Day Celebration in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
Given that people actively participate in cleaning of temples, during a Chunar Yatra in Susner Block, the SBM team hoisted flags that promote cleanliness on homes that did not have toilets – until the household built one. This idea work exceptionally well and a month’s progress was achieved in 15 days.
Another interesting story came from Rampur Bhundwas village. Considering that people in this village people were not ready to build toilets even after a lot of CLTS activities and IEC activities, the Sarpanch set up an overhead water supply tank at the top of his own house which had separate valves for different localities. He would halt water supply to every locality where there was resistance to building toilets. This led to community pressure and within a few weeks that village became ODF.
As a result of community participation in cleanliness related activities, Chhapariya village was ranked 9th across India and 1st in Madhya Pradesh in the ranking of Saansad Adarsh Gram by members of the Parliament. Previously, the village was one of the dirtiest villages; but the decision to set up Keshav Vatika on the open defecation spot motivated the community to adopt safe sanitation practices. It also motivated other nearby villages to adopt similar practices and make their villages ODF.
A motivated team
The team at Agar Malwa kept themselves motivated throughout the ODF journey. Assigning one Nodal officer to one GP developed ownership towards the goal; their experiences and problems were heard and acted upon every Monday; thereby expediting the process. In addition, District Panchayat officers, Nodal officers etc. held village/GP level meetings regularly to maintain the spirit of the foot soldiers.
An announcement by the local MLA on public forum that the ODF GPs will be rewarded 2 lakh rupees from MLA fund kept the motivation level of Sarpanchs high. Also, top performers in sanitation related activities were given priority in government schemes and direct recognition from the Collector and CEO ZP motivated even a common man to give priority to sanitation.
Agar Malwa officially became open defecation free on 30th May, 2017. Having assumed the role of District Collector/Magistrate on 20th October, 2015, the DC said that playing his part as the District Mission Leader was not just professionally demanding but also soul satisfying.
“This is a nation building exercise and efforts of each individual can save lives of children across the country. So it becomes important for leaders not just to keep themselves motivated but also to instill a sense of responsibility in every member of the team. I consider myself fortunate for having had this opportunity to contribute towards this historical initiative of making India Open Defecation Free,” he said.