New Delhi: After learning about the health risks of open defecation in a class on swachhata (cleanliness) in her school, 14-year-old Nisha Kumari, from Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur district sat on a hunger strike to press her family and the authorities to ensure that a toilet gets constructed in her house. For two days straight, the 14-year-old didn’t eat anything and the result of her struggle was inspirational enough to turn into an example for others. The news of her silent but determined protest became widely known and within two days Nisha and her family got an approval for construction of IHHL (Individual household latrine). In addition, taking inspiration from the young swachh warrior, 35 more students from a Higher Secondary School in Kud staged protests in their respective houses demanding construction of toilets. Post this mass hunger strike, work on 558 IHHL was fast tracked in the village.
#ConstituencyUpdate: Felicitated young girl Nisha Rani from a remote village in district #Udhampur, who went on a fast to get a toilet set up in her household. Finally, a toilet has been set up and work started on construction of 500 more such toilets. #Jammu #Kashmir pic.twitter.com/PsUXZpurZy
— Dr Jitendra Singh (@DrJitendraSingh) March 24, 2018
For a land which is filled with such young swachh warriors, it is not shocking to see how sanitation coverage in rural areas of the state increased from mere 25.21 per cent in 2014 to 100 per cent now. Proud of achieving the open defecation free (ODF) tag a year before its deadline of October 2019, Governor Satya Pal Malik, congratulated the state administration for its efforts and observed that due to sustained efforts of all the stakeholders, Jammu and Kashmir has achieved 100 per cent toilet coverage and has become ODF “one year in advance”.
Though the state has declared itself ODF, but until March 2017, the rural areas had only 31.09 per cent of household toilet coverage. In one and a half year, the number rose to 100 per cent. Here’s how the state managed to pick up pace and meet its toilet construction target in such a short span.
Citizen Participation And Administration Led Initiatives Act As A Catalyst To Toilet Construction In Rural Jammu And Kashmir
According to the data available on Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin portal, there are a total of 316 blocks, 4,171 gram panchayats and 7,565 villages in J&K. Of all this, 291 blocks, 3,885 gram panchayats and 7,054 villages are verified ODF and rest are in the process of getting QCI verification done. Till today, nearly 11 lakh (10,94,969) household toilets have been built in the rural part of the state.
Explaining the challenges faced by the state, Indu Kanwal Chib, Director, Rural Sanitation, Jammu and Kashmir says,
The major challenge was topography, reason being, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, all three have completely different terrain. Also, the internet connectivity in some regions is pathetic. So, if a gram sewak goes in a particular region for a day or two, he cannot reach out to any one of us for anything. The second major challenge is the unexpected and unpredictable bandhs, curfews, and strikes.
But slowly and gradually, the rural sanitation department overcame all the challenges with help from different sections of the society. Talking about the ‘interesting journey’, as Ms. Indu calls it, she tells,
Jammu is a home to temples, Kashmir hosts mosques and Ladakh is a hub of monasteries. We approached all the religious places and asked them to diffuse the message of sanitation through their prayers. Secondly, education department helped in involving students after all they are the brand ambassadors. Thirdly, 16 Zila Swachh Bharat Prerakhs did a remarkable work in making people understand the pivotal role a toilet plays in an individual’s life.
Along with this, the rural sanitation department took help of wall paintings, sports activities, organised singing, writing and dancing competitions in regional language, took out rath yatras and made announcements using the traditional percussion instrument dhol to draw attention to the issue at hand.
The result of all such activities and events is evident with the way individuals and administration came forward. For instance, for a long time, while majority of people were still defecating in the open, 87-year-old Rakki Devi, from Jammu and Kashmir’s Badali village in Udhampur, single-handedly constructed a toilet near her house in a weeks’ time. ‘I don’t want my children to suffer the same fate as I did – I want them to use a toilet at home and be safe’, with this as her motive, Rakki Devi started her swachh journey. The genesis of the thought of toilet construction was born in her mind only after she attended one of the awareness campaigns in her village and got to know about the ill-effects of defecating in the open.
Inspired by the swachh efforts of the elderly, back in May, other villagers pledged to construct a toilet in their homes at the earliest. In July, the swachh warrior was felicitated as a Swachh mascot of the state and also received over Rs. 12,000 for constructing a concrete toilet on her own.
While citizens led the swachhta campaign in their individual way, administration had their own way of dealing with the employees who didn’t have a toilet at their place. In April, under the ‘Sauchalay Banao Aur Salary Pao’ (Build Toilet and Get Paid) initiative, the district administration of Kishtwar district decided to not release the salary of 643 employees residing in Padder valley for not having a toilet at home.
Urban Jammu And Kashmir Awaits Third Party Verification
Urban Jammu and Kashmir is largely divided into two divisions – Jammu and Kashmir. Out of the 36 urban local bodies (ULBs) that come under the Jammu division, 27 ULBs have received ODF certification from Quality Council of India (QCI), four ULBs await inspection report and remaining five are being inspected and verified by QCI. Once the verification is done and Jammu division is officially declared ODF, Jammu will be focusing on the next stage of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which is ODF Plus which emphasies on sustaining toilet usage.
Sharing details on the steps taken to spread awareness and achieve ODF tag, Ravinder Kumar, Assistant Revenue Officer from Jammu division says,
The reason it took us almost four years is the mindset of the people. To overcome that, we undertook IEC (Information, Education and Communication) activities like street plays, awareness rallies, competitions, and many more, conducted numerous awareness programmes, and made people aware through hoardings, fliers, and brochures. Along with this, ward sanitation committees of 10-12 people were formed. The committee would go town to town every week to spread the message of sanitation.
To make sure every household has a toilet, the department also did a survey and made a list of people who didn’t have Individual household latrine. Till now, around 10,742 toilets have been constructed in the Jammu division.
Since the inception of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, 20,000 IHHL and 180 five seater community and public toilets have been constructed in Kashmir.
Kashmir division consists of 42 ULBs of which 36 have received ODF certification from Quality Council of India (QCI), three ULBs are undergoing third party verification and for the remaining three, objection has been invited from public which means if residents of the area have any issue with the ODF tag, they can upfront that.
Whenever an area is self-declared ODF, we give an advertisement in newspaper, inviting objections. If an individual thinks that ODF tag is incorrect, he/she can get back to us within 15 days, tells an official from the Kashmir division.
Today, both rural and urban areas of J&K are ODF and verification of self-declared blocks, villages, gram panchayats, and ULBs is underway, which is expected to be completed by October 2. Once it is done, the state plans to focus on ODF plus and ODF plus plus status which aims for sustaining the toilet usage and solid and liquid waste management. Currently, in rural areas, the time and energy is being put on getting verification done and geo-tagging toilets.
Our aim is not to achieve ODF in figures, but in reality and once it is attained, we will focus on sustaining and building pink toilets – the one especially for women with facilities like Sanitary Napkin vending machine, and incinerator for safe menstrual waste disposal. District Samba in Jammu has been selected for the pilot project. Parallely, we are focusing on solid and liquid waste management and GOBAR Dhan scheme, tells Ms. Indu.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.