- Over 1.7 lakh toilets were constructed to make rural Himachal Pradesh ODF
- Only 915 toilets got constructed in urban areas over the course of 3 years
- Government has now accelerated toilet construction process in urban areas
New Delhi: To end the traditional practice of open defecation in the ‘Dev Bhumi’ (Abode of Gods) Himachal Pradesh, the land of gods and goddesses with over 2,000 temples, the state government started the work on total sanitation coverage back in year 2000 as part of the Central Rural Sanitation Program. And ever since the beginning of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in October 2014, the government has been instrumental in implementing the objectives of the campaign that is to eliminate open defecation in rural areas. Himachal Pradesh successfully achieved that target of being an open defecation free state in October 2016, thus earning the title of being the second state in the country (after Sikkim) to achieve this significant milestone. To achieve total rural sanitation coverage, over 1.7 lakh (1,72,902) household toilets were constructed across the state as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Resulting, all the 12 districts (Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Kullu, Lahaul & Spiti, Mandi, Shimla, Solan, Una, Kangra, Sirmaur, Chamba and Kinnaur), including 78 development blocks, 3,226 Panchayats and 18,511 villages, now have the basic facility of toilets at homes. Notably, among bigger states, Himachal Pradesh became the first ODF state, which also entitled it receive World Bank funding to sustain the sanitation campaign. On achieving this feat, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh was very “happy and proud.” He stated that Himachal Pradesh would be happy to share lessons they have learnt in this journey with other states to help realise the vision of a Swachh Bharat. So what are these lessons?
One is notably the early adoption of the community led total sanitation (CLTS) programme, which calls for the suspension of toilet subsidies and instead works towards securing collective behaviour change by instilling an anti-open defecation sentiment in the community. For this, all the government departments were involved and were assigned specific responsibilities, including the review and monitoring the progress of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in the state.
All the departments then worked together to implement the CLTS programme, wherein people were mobilised to come out and get directly involved with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Considering women were most affected by the practice of open defecation, the government decided to make Mahila Mandals/Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) the torch bearers of the campaign.
It had the desired result. The women of rural areas in Himachal Pradesh emerged as the driving force to bring about behavioural change for phasing out the old practice of open defecation. One example wherein women came forward for the cleanliness cause was when Mahila Mandals (MMs) of Mandi district (declared ODF in 2015 and ranked cleanest district in the ‘Hills’ category as per Swachh Survekshan 2016) motivated others to build toilets at home and took up the work of cleaning their villages every week. The activity also turned out to be a good source of income for many as they sold over one lakh kg of scrap worth about Rs. 5 lakh from February 2015 to August 2016. Acknowledging the efforts, the government rewarded the 1000 MMs every year with total prize money of Rs. 1.3 crore.
In yet another instance, the swachhta campaign became a war against liquor menace as well. During the routine cleanup, the Mahila Mandals of Mandi district observed that the biggest component of garbage collected comprise liquor bottles littered around. This eventually led to women starting the Daru-Bandiabhiyan (liquor ban) in the Sawamahu Gram Panchayat.
Notably, the Mandi district is now moving towards ODF Plus status, which involves effective management of solid and liquid waste and adoption of zero waste principles to reduce, recycle and compost.
Around 4,490 women’s groups comprising about 60,000 to 70,000 women have been involved in a campaign called Mandi Vikas Abhiyan, under which they have ‘voluntarily’ undertaken around two lakh cleaning activities and constructed 30,000 soak and 15,000 garbage pits, said District Collector, Sandeep Kadam.
While interacting with the villagers, Mr Kadam also observed that none of the members of Mahila Mandals resorted to littering, showing an evidence of behavior change.
It was observed that awareness level of people to keep their ambiance neat and clean was extremely high and Mahila Mandals along with Gram Panchayats played a pivotal role in achieving the targets under the total sanitation coverage campaign, another official of the sanitation department said.
Even Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj noted that Himachal Pradesh would not have been an ODF state if making sanitation a priority had not become a ‘jan andolan’, a people’s movement.
How government workforce was utilized to end open defecation:
At Gram Panchayat (GP) level, focussed Inter Personal Communication (IPC) drive was carried out by officials for construction of toilets by the households without one. Since all government departments were involved in this process, it was ensured that the list of households not having toilet or with dysfunctional toilets, name wise, was furnished to all the departments so they act in a coordinated manner. In each GP, officials identified a peer group and its services were taken while conducting the IPC with the households which were not constructing toilets or were reluctant to construct the toilet. Furthermore, each department apart from the assigned responsibilities were asked to identify the employees/staff on its payroll who do not have a toilet constructed in his/her house, and it was ensured that the employee construct the toilet on priority.
The government directed Sub Divisional Magistrates to ensure that people living on rental accommodations should have toilets. This decision was taken based on the reports that some house owners don’t provide toilet facility to tenants. Similar cases were also reported in Goa, where tenants who make up nearly 1/3rd of the state’s population are struggling with landlords to get ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) to build a toilet, a hurdle for the state to go ODF.
Notably, the police department was also given the responsibility to prevent littering and open defecation by residents and tourists. They were allowed to cut challans against those defying these rules.
Reward Programmes to motivate people construct and use toilets:
To motivate the local bodies and people to build toilets, maintain them and keep their surroundings clean, the state government introduced a number of reward programmes, like the Maharishi Valmiki Sampoorn Swachata Puruskar (MVSSP). Under this programme, the government awards the cleanest Gram Panchayat at Block, District, Division and State level.
Toilet technology used to construct toilets:
In terms of toilet construction, the twin-pit toilet model, which is considered to be the best option for rural areas where there is no proper onsite treatment system, wasn’t majorly used.
In Himachal, people have mostly opted for traditional septic tank toilets. People in rural/hilly areas feel that septic tank toilet is a better option and convenient to build than the relatively newer twin-pit toilet, said Gian Sagar Negi, Deputy Secretary-cum-Joint Director, Rural Development, Himachal Pradesh.
And, in certain remote areas like Lahaul and Spiti, where people as per their traditional practices used night soil in the fields as manure, twin pit toilets were constructed since that also involves the use of excreta as compost.
Sanitation related problems that government needs to address
Though, Himachal Pradesh is open defecation free, it lags way behind when it comes to availability of public conveniences on the highways, where over 5000 buses ply on a daily basis. In this regard, the government has been notified by the Himachal Pradesh High Court where the court said, “Shockingly, there are no public conveniences available on these highways, as a result of which public travelling day in and day out on such roads are compelled to urinate/defecate in open causing damage to the ecology as well as causing pollution”. The court also ruled that public convenience facilities along highways are a fundamental right of passengers and tourists.
In addition to highways, the situation in the urban areas of the state is also not good. According to the information available on the Swachh Bharat Urban site, only 915 toilets, along with just three community toilets and 50 public toilets were constructed over the course of three years.
However, the department of Rural Development after its review expressed dissatisfaction on the slow progress made by the 61 urban local bodies (ULBs) in constructing toilets and directed the concerned officials to accelerate the progress to make ULBs ODF.
Himachal also faces another challenge in terms of waste management. The state with over 68 lakh inhabitants is visited by over 1.26 crore tourists (1.23 crore domestic and 3.3 lakh international tourists) per year and generates round 300-350 metric tons of waste every day. Due to limited infrastructure and hilly terrain, solid waste is dumped in a haphazard manner, causing environmental problems and health hazards. This is another area where the government really needs to work as per the provisions of the Solid Waste Management Rrules, 2016.
Sustainability of the open defecation free status
Now that the rural Himachal Pradesh is ODF, the government is focussing on generating awareness and providing community managed sanitation systems to ensure sustainability of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. In this regard, the municipal corporations are coming forward to do their bit. For instance, the Dharamshala Municipal Corporation is installing underground bins across the city. Of the total set target of 250 bins, nearly 55 bins have already been placed in the city.
While speaking on how the government will sustain the sanitation campaign in the State, Mr Negi said, “The government hasn’t got any funds so far from the World Bank. We are using the funds allotted for solid-liquid waste management to educate people to keep using their toilets, to sustain Himachal Pradesh’s ODF status and improve solid and liquid waste management in rural areas“.
Though, rural Himachal Pradesh is ODF, the state will to have to focus on urban areas, on highways and on waste management, to capitalise on its early lead among ODF states.