- Belgaum had sanitation coverage of around 30 per cent till 2016
- Over 2,00,000 toilets will be completed by the end of December 2017
- The district aims to go ODF by March 2017
In Alakhanur village in Karnataka’s Belgaum, villagers would wake up early morning and line up outside the only available public toilet. Sometimes, when the toilet would run out of water, disappointed villagers would return to the adjacent fields in the village and relieve themselves. This practice, which went on for nearly two years was a stark reminder of prevalent situation of rural sanitation in numerous Indian villages. Despite the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan reaching the landmark of three years, Belgaum remained excluded from the sanitation mission’s shadow for a good two and a half years, when the number of toilets constructed was little more than just two hundred, till the end of 2016.
With a population of over six lakhs, Belgaum’s sanitation situation was one of the poorest in Karnataka. In 2012, a survey by the state government noted that over five lakh households were without toilets in the district. Though the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan began in 2014, as a district, Belgavi remained largely an underperformer in the two and a half years since the Abhiyan began. For many in the district, toilet building remained an elusive concept, something they thought was difficult to get involved in, fearing the cost of construction and maintenance may take a toll on them.
Belgavi has a rich history of being a culturally sound district, but in terms of human development indicators, was way behind. The lack of toilets especially, has always been a matter of concern but little has been done to address them, until now. It was only at the end of last year that toilet construction in the district was taken up seriously, said R Ramachandran, Ex Deputy Commissioner, Belgaum District Panchayat.
The dismal sanitation scenario in the district, which bordered around 30 per cent even two years after the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan began, was an eyesore for the local administration, especially because no more than 2,000 toilets were added in the last three years. R. Ramachandran, who was the district commissioner in November 2016 convened a meeting between Ziladhikaris, local NGOs, self-help groups (SHGs) and addressed the sanitation scenario. Statistics showed how dismal the sanitation scenario was in the district, and the discussion resulted in the decision of building at least two lakh toilets by the end of 2017.
While becoming open defecation free is of course the ultimate aim, the scenario was so bleak that we decided to break down the targets year wise. For 2017, we targeted to build two lakh toilets, said Mr Ramachandran.
Between November 2016 and April 2017 officials from the district were trained not only about the concepts of toilet building, but also on how to make residents aware of the whole mission, the amount they will receive on constructing toilets and assisting NGOs and SHGs wherever required, throughout the duration of the project.
By August 2017, 40,867 toilets were completed in the district, while work is currently going on in the construction of 1,30,000 plus toilets. Of the 40,867, 34,679 were for below poverty level families, while the rest of the toilets were for above poverty level families. The funds were also promptly released by the commissioner, who himself monitored the allocation and release on a day-to-day basis. One of the innovative steps taken by the administration was to ensure that taluk officers and panchayat development officers monitored the sanitation scenario regularly, especially in villages where the number of toilets was very low. This ensured that construction was completed at a rapid pace in such villages.
Belgaum has become the fifth district in Karnataka to build such high number of toilets. While the district is still quite far away from meeting the open defecation free target, the pace of construction has given the administration hope that ODF target is not unachievable, especially the pace with which toilets in the district are being constructed.
We are carrying the pace of toilet construction that was started during the earlier commissioner’s tenure and by the end of next year, the district will become open defecation free The contribution of the villagers must be acknowledged as they have come out wholeheartedly in the whole toilet construction campaign. We are now aiming for the ODF status by March 2017, said S. Ziyaullah, Deputy Commissioner, Belgaum District.
Belgaum is another successful example of district administration partnering with local population to completely reverse the existing sanitation scenario. For a district which needs over five lakh toilets to be built to become ODF, building of two lakh toilets in a single year, is an achievement worth celebrating.