- Hassan in Karnataka was declared ODF on October 2
- Many villages across the district still have households without toilets
- ODF declaration on the basis of 2012 number of houses, says administration
The celebration of the third anniversary of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on October 2, 2017 saw programmes and participation nationwide in the Swachhata Hi Seva campaign. The mission, which started three years back with the aim of eradicating the practice of open defecation from India by 2019 has achieved considerable success, especially in the improvement of national sanitation coverage, which has gone up to 69.73 per cent. The declaration of open defecation free towns and villages, however is an area which continues to be a matter of concern. The practice of open defecation has been reported to continue from many open defecation free (ODF) villages, the latest such story emerges from Hassan district in Karnataka.
It was on October 2 that the district of Hassan was declared ODF by the state administration, despite the district administration not staking a claim for the ODF tag or communicating the same to Rural Panchayat Ministry. Since 2014, over 2,000 toilets have been built in Hassan, and the district has sanitation coverage of above 94 per cent. The improvement in Hassan’s sanitation coverage from having just around 200 toilets in 2013 to 2,000 today is undoubtedly remarkable, but how did the state administration declare a district ODF when it is yet to attain the status?
There are still some villages where a few households are yet to build toilets. The number of such villages are not more than seven and in them too, around 20 or 30 households are without toilets, which we plan to cover by the end of 2017,” said Krishnappa Poojari, Panchayat Development Officer of Adaguru panchayat, Hassan district.
Apart from Adaguru, Belur is another panchayat in which a few villages are not ODF yet. The confusion about the district’s ODF certification has stemmed from the target which was set in 2012 as per a district baseline survey. Since 2012, no such survey was conducted and the state administration had declared the district ODF on the basis of the number of households as per the 2012 survey. But in the preceding 5 years, most of the panchayats saw an increase in the number of households. The ODF declaration has already been announced, but the district Chief Executive Officer (CEO) says that work is yet to be completed as per the new number of households.
The district was declared ODF because as per the 2012 survey, the number of households in the district was around 2,180. The number of households today is nearly 3,000 and some work remains to be done before the whole district is declared ODF. Once the work is completed, we will apply for the ODF certification, said K.M.Janaki, Chief Executive Officer, Hassan district.
Hassan will soon attain ODF status and the state department’s mistake might not be too costly for the district. But the ODF declaration by mistake is a serious problem, especially when the sanitation mission has stressed on ensuring that ODF declarations must come after due verification at both the district and state level. It is only after individual villages send ODF declarations to the district office, a detailed verification is carried out by the district officials and then by state officials before an ODF certification request is submitted to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
But as the deadline of an ODF India approaches, states and villages are under increased pressure to declare themselves ODF, as the Hassan incident reflects.
The problem of any deadline oriented campaign is that if significant progress is not achieved as the deadline approaches, institutions start taking drastic steps. We saw that with alleged instances of coercion in Rajasthan. In Hassan too, the district was declared ODF based on the earlier number of households. This shows that numbers and milestones are beginning to matter more than behavioural change, as promised by the campaign, said Sushmita Sengupta of Centre for Science and Environment.
Hassan is an important example in the context of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. While growing number of ODF districts look good on paper, it is important that they are also ODF in real. Eradication of open defecation from rural areas forms the crux of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and there should be no compromise on the authenticity of a district’s ODF coverage. For the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to become a success, ODF declarations should only come after all the due criteria has been fulfilled. And more importantly for any of it to be effective behavioural change needs to happen through comprehensive awareness programme.