Mission possible

Jan 31, 2014 | 

The Centre gives India just about eight years to free its villages of open defecation. This seems unlikely. But the states of Sikkim, Haryana and Jharkhand in India, and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have shown the way. Their models stress on behavioural change and disapprove of government subsidy to install toilets.

Jitendra reports from Delhi and Haryana, Alok Gupta from Jharkhand and Sayantan Bera from Sikkim

CHALLENGE: 105-year-old Bishnu Tana Bhagat finally built a toilet in his house in Jharkhand. The state coverage figures at the bottom of the country’s sanitation list (Photo: Alok Gupta)CHALLENGE: 105-year-old Bishnu Tana Bhagat finally built a toilet in his house in Jharkhand. The state coverage figures at the bottom of the country’s sanitation list (Photo: Alok Gupta)Candid talk is what 100-odd residents of Motuka-nangala panchayat in Faridabad district on the outskirts of Delhi understand best. Engaging these former saperas (snake charmers) in an informal chat, Upendra Singh, a Haryana government sanitation consultant, is blunt: “Do you realise you are eating each other’s excreta?” It is not a charming question. Sensing their discomfort, Upendra rolls out a chart paper and scribbles an equation. It has a telling impact. “A person defecates 500 gm daily. Your village of 3,000 people piles up 1.5 tonne of excreta every day. It is a big health problem,” he explains.

Clearly edgy, the gathering next hears out Vimal Kumar, a village elderly who recently built a toilet in his house. “Our village is facing serious health problems because of this pile of excreta,” he says, explaining why each house must have a toilet. “It is convenient, dignified and saves money because you avoid diseases.” Upendra intervenes, “Tell me now, in how many days will you build toilets?”

MOTIVATION: In Haryana, which has shown success in total sanitation campaign, daily wage labourer Vimal Kumar explains why toilets in homes are essential (Photo: Jitendra)MOTIVATION: In Haryana, which has shown success in total sanitation campaign, daily wage labourer Vimal Kumar explains why toilets in homes are essential (Photo: Jitendra)Everyone mumbles a timeframe. Some raise the issue of money. “Change the way you think and build toilets. Within a week, government will reward you with Rs 4,600,” says Upendra. This apart, there will be help from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), up to Rs 4,500 more, which will cover the initial costs.

The Haryana model, expounded by thousands of consultants like Upendra, moves beyond India’s rulebook sanitation programme which overwhelmingly relies on the carrot of subsidy. It focuses on persuasion and reward.

Haryana’s turnaround

Motuka-nangala has 262 households without toilets. Motivators like Upendra have been pursuing its residents for almost a year now. Their hard work is showing. Some 50 families have started building toilets. The panchayat has set an ambitious target for itself. By 2014 end, it must achieve the open defecation-free (ODF) status, a rarity for thousands of villages in the country.

SUCCESS: Lilabati Gautam, 70, of Sikkim does not remember when she last had to go out for defecation. The state is the first to become free from the scourge of open defecationSUCCESS: Lilabati Gautam, 70, of Sikkim does not remember when she last had to go out for defecation. The state is the first to become free from the scourge of open defecation (Photo: Sayantan Bera)Sanitation cover in Faridabad has increased from 23 per cent in 2006 to 84 per cent in 2013. Now, only 11,000 of the district’s 67,000 rural households remain to be covered with sanitation facilities. In 2008, as many as 10 villages in the district won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP), national award for an ODF village which also meets other specified norms of safe and sustainable sanitation. In 2013, the local administration nominated 39 panchayats for the award.

Faridabad’s rise coincides with Haryana’s fame for being the front-runner in fighting open defecation. The state reported a sanitation cover of only 29 per cent in the 2001 Census. It went up to an impressive 66 per cent in the 2011 Census. A baseline survey by the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) shows that Haryana has achieved 75 per cent sanitation cover till December 2013. The state has not set a universal sanitation deadline for itself but the speed at which it is going Haryana could be ODF by 2015. What did it do to achieve this?

imageIn 2006, the state adopted the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) model with Panipat as the frontrunner district. The model, which is being implemented in 52 countries, shifts focus of sanitation from subsidy-driven toilet construction to bringing about behavioural change in people so that they do not defecate in the open. In Faridabad, Amit Agrawal, the district’s additional deputy commissioner who is a trained doctor, launched the campaign. “He convinced us that open defecation affects our health,” recalls Dalbir Singh, head of Bilaspur village panchayat who was a panchayat member.

The next step was to create village-level water sanitation committees, with volunteers who generate awareness about the health hazards of open defecation. This group comprised accredited social health activists, anganwadi workers, school students and village leaders. The volunteers kept an eye on people going out for defecation. Constant vigil triggered demand for toilets under Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), Centre’s flagship programme for sanitation.

CLTS was perfected in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. In 2005, Himachal Pradesh stopped all subsidies linked to toilet construction. Deepak Sanan, then secretary for rural development and panchayati raj department of Himachal Pradesh, was the man behind the strategy. According to him, the state saw an unusual surge in toilet construction after the subsidy regime was done away with. In a few years, most village panchayats attained universal coverage without any subsidy. Rural households with toilets in Himachal Pradesh increased from 31 per cent to 68 per cent between Census 2001 and Census 2011. This is the highest increase in any state.

Source: Economic Impact of Inadequate Sanitation in India published by Water and Sanitation Programme, 2011Source: Economic Impact of Inadequate Sanitation in India published by Water and Sanitation Programme, 2011

When Haryana adopted the model, it started rewarding ODF villages. When residents are convinced of the need for toilets, they request the panchayat head for the construction. To begin work, MGNREGA is used for both labour and material cost up to Rs 4,500. This takes away a major financial burden of the poor resident. Once the toilet is ready, the local sanitation motivator checks and sends a photograph of the toilet to the district administration. Within a week, the government deposits Rs 4,600 in his/her account as reward under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA).

Assurance of reward money helps the poor. Economically disadvantaged residents of Mirzapur panchayat in Hisar district, for instance, were the first to build toilets. Sixty-year-old Rukmini Devi recently built a toilet with loan. “Government incentive money worked as an assurance for people to lend me money,” she says. Her son, a daily wage labourer, fell sick for a month, impacting her financial condition. It was difficult to take her son to field for defecation and this motivated Rukmini.

The motivators are clearly happy with the success. Pinky Yadav is popularly called latrinewali in the villages of Hisar. “But I don’t care what they call me as long as they get motivated to build toilets in their homes,” she says.

Some 50 families in Motuka-nangala panchayat in Haryana are building toiletsSome 50 families in Motuka-nangala panchayat in Haryana are building toilets (Photo: Jitendra)

Haryana is among India’s wealthiest states. It is the second largest contributor to the country’s foodgrain stock. It is also the biggest manufacturer of cars, two-wheelers and tractors. In the mid-1990s, it was also among the states with the lowest sanitation cover and rampant open defecation. By 2008, however, it had erased that inglorious past. During the third South Asian Conference on Sanitation held in Delhi the same year, delegates made a beeline to Haryana to see the turnaround.

India’s trauma

India today is in the same pathetic condition as Haryana of 1990s. It has the world’s largest population that defecates in the open. According to data released by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in December 2013, 59.4 per cent of rural India defecates in the open. Jharkhand and Odisha are the worst performers with 90.5 per cent and 81.3 per cent of their population without toilets respectively.

The rude shock came in 2012 when the 2011 Census put the national toilet coverage at only 31 per cent. MDWS had all along put the figure at 68 per cent (see ‘Do rural Indian homes have enough toilets?’). From 1990 to 2010, the number of people with access to some kind of toilet rose from 26 per cent to 50 per cent, states the ministry data. But during this period, there was a similar increase in the population as well, neutralising the gains.

imageGitu Bala, 27, is among the first in Basara panchayat in Panipat, Haryana, to have constructed a toilet in her home (Photos: Chinky Shukla)

This triggered a political debate. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Union Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh fought to agree that India needs toilets before temples. The difference between the ministry and Census data translates into 37.5 million “missing toilets”. A desperate Ramesh came up with a face-saver. In June 2012, he added toilet construction to the list of work permitted under MGNREGS with support of Rs 4,500. During the winter session of Parliament, this amount was increased to Rs 10,000. In effect, with the NBA contribution added, the total subsidy for toilet construction has increased to Rs 14,600.

But implementation of the rural employment scheme has been faulty since the start. Clearly, its convergence with NBA has not shown results. Before convergence, 10 million toilets were built every year. On December 23, 2013, the total number of toilets constructed under MGNREGS convergence has dropped to around 2 million.

India has been struggling to achieve universal sanitation coverage since 1986 when it launched the Central Rural Sanitation Programme, a supply-driven scheme with subsidy. But handing out subsidies has never really worked. In 1999, the programme was recast as demand-driven Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), but again with subsidy. In 2012, it was rechristened NBA with focus on community-led, demand-driven approach, but with even more subsidies.

In 1996-97, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi conducted a comprehensive survey on knowledge, attitude and practices in rural areas. The survey showed that only two per cent respondents acknowledged subsidy as the major motivating factor, while 54 per cent claimed to have moved to sanitary latrines due to convenience and privacy. In fact, 51 per cent respondents were ready to spend up to Rs 1,000 to acquire sanitary toilets.

The Central government, however, ignored the message. Its sanitation programme was a no-gain toilet construction scheme. India built millions of toilets but people could not use them. Of the total toilets built since 1986, 20 per cent are defunct (see ‘State of affairs’). In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said 50 per cent of the toilets built under the government’s santitation programme were not in use. In a 2010 study for MDWS, non-profit Centre for Media Studies found that poor construction quality and unfinished toilets were the reasons for the gap between access and use. Low incentive provided under TSC was also responsible for this.


According to the 12th Five Year Plan, 50 per cent of the village panchayats must attain ODF status by 2017 and 100 per cent by 2022. But the progress is tardy. A calculation by Down To Earth based on the current rate of progress shows that the country can meet the first deadline by 2028, and attain universal coverage by 2044.

Jharkhand changing

The state that comes at the bottom of the sanitation coverage list is understood to be constructing toilets by the thousands since mid-1980s. Yet, 92.4 per cent of rural households in Jharkhand still do not have access to toilets, states the 2011 Census. Obviously, it has to start afresh with first generation toilet users.

Under TSC, a beneficiary received Rs 625 to build a toilet. The meager amount was sufficient only for digging the pit and installing the toilet pan. So people used polythene sheets strung on four bamboo sticks as cover. The toilets did not even have roofs. Very few used the toilets, but the state government kept patting its back for having constructed several toilets.

However, the state is now witnessing a major change in its sanitation initiative. The government has started giving loan to beneficiaries, instead of giving them subsidy. In some villages, it has adopted the CLTS model the way Haryana has. Each village has a water and sanitation committee, which motivates people to use toilets. The committee, comprising panchayat members, mukhiyas, residents of villages and a water ambassador, has the responsibility to make its village ODF. But the ODF tag comes only when all residents of the village have stopped open defecation. The state government also announced that the sanitation initiative must end with ODF. If that does not happen within a year, the water and sanitation committee must be reconstituted.

Panchayat members and the committee members hold regular meetings to find ways to stop open defecation, which may include monetary fine or holding hearing.

Their hard work is now showing results. Bakshi village in Lohardaga district had reported 100 per cent slipback under TSC. After the state gave people loans to build new toilets, each household has two toilets—one that is covered with polythene sheets and another made of brick mortar. Awareness campaign between 2012 and 2013 led to behavioural change among people. Now, Bakshi village is completely ODF.

For the first time, people are paying EMIs for loans taken to build toilets, says Chari Oraon, water ambassador of the village. “This community mobilisation has happened primarily because now we have a panchayat body. Elected panchayati raj institutions have a close knit association with their community,” says Somnath Basu of Unicef, Ranchi.

The baseline survey of MDWS shows sanitation cover in the state has increased from 8 per cent in 2011 to 26 per cent in December, 2013.

Thumbs up to Sikkim

Seventy-year-old Lilabati Gautam’s modest wooden house in Ranka block of East Sikkim is better than many posh resorts. Perched on a hill slope, it overlooks orange trees dotting a lush green valley. In one corner is a two-set toilet built with concrete and tin. It receives water straight from a mountain stream. The washroom and latrine set was built a decade ago with half the expenses sponsored by TSC. It also holds a beautiful example of how to ensure sanitation in difficult terrain.

More than 50 per cent of the rural households in Sikkim do not have water sources on their premises, says a recent NSSO study. But there is hardly a family that does not understand the importance of toilets. All families in Ranka have sanitary toilets; the traditional open pit ones are rare. Lilabati says stomach illnesses have nearly vanished from her family after the toilets were built. Her granddaughter, a Class V student, goes to a school that has five toilets. She always washes her hands after using the toilet and before meals.

Diki Tamang of Sikkim built a toilet next to her house after her college-going daughter demanded itDiki Tamang of Sikkim built a toilet next to her house after her college-going daughter demanded it (Photo: Sayantan Bera)

“But I don’t wash hands before eating,” says four-year-old Prayas Tamang, who is sitting in a group of kids at the Middle Tingchin Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centre in North Sikkim. “In my house, the blue soap is for washing clothes and the white one for washing hands. While eating I always use a spoon,” Tamang smiles. Down To Earth visited many ICDS centres, each had a toilet and no child was undernourished. Among all the states, incidence of child malnourishment is lowest in Sikkim. Each of the 1,233 anganwadis operational in the state has a toilet and drinking water facility, a feat in itself compared to the rest of the country.

Kumar Rai, secretary of Rey Mindu gram panchayat in Ranka, remembers the convincing it took to make families believe in sanitary toilets. “We campaigned door-to-door, roped in influential local residents and made families understand why toilets are essential. Today, people will walk half-an-hour to fetch water to the toilet than defecate in the open,” he says with unabashed pride. “When a nearby school faced water scarcity recently, each child carried a litre of water from home every day and filled the tank that feeds the latrine till the problem was resolved.”

In November 2008, Rey Mindu and 163 other gram panchayats in Sikkim won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar. A month later, the hill state was honoured by the President of India for becoming the first Nirmal Rajya—a state free from the scourge of open defecation. Since the launch of TSC in 1999, Sikkim with a population of over 600,000, has built 98,043 individual household toilets. This means in the past 14 years, a new toilet was built for every six persons. According to 2011 Census, 87 per cent of the households have toilets within their homes.

A strong political will to achieve total sanitation is the biggest reason for the state’s success, says Yishey D Yongda, joint secretary at the rural management and development department in Sikkim and in-charge of NBA. “Where else will you find a rural development minister peeping into people’s toilets in remote villages?” Way back in 2007, the government made it mandatory for everyone contesting panchayat elections to have a sanitary toilet in their homes. Today, all panchayat members are sensitised about sanitation and hygiene, she adds.

Reliable water supply is crucial for sustaining toilets. Between 2001 and 2011, when the state went on a toilet-building spree, it also increased tap water access in households from 70 per cent to 85 per cent. “It is not easy to take piped water to houses in Sikkim’s challenging mountain terrain. Since 2008, we have taken elaborate measures to revive dying mountain springs through the Dhara Vikas programme,” says D R Nepal, secretary, rural development department. The spring-shed development programme has improved water discharge by 15 per cent and revived 50 springs and four lakes in drought-prone panchayats, states an independent assessment by the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.


“In our panchayat, wards competed with each other to meet total sanitation targets,” says Milan Chhetri, member of Chuba Phong gram panchayat in Namthang block of south Sikkim. “Earlier, we used to have severe water crisis in winters. So we built trenches, recharged a lake and constructed over 150 rooftop water harvesting tanks,” he adds. The measures not only ensured water security, but also earned Chuba Phong a national award.

“Open defecation was never a part of Sikkimese culture and now there is considerable stigma attached to it,” says Ganden Lachungpa of Gangtok-based non-profit Sikkim Development Foundation. “The monetary incentive under TSC did not even cover the transportation cost of materials. Sikkim’s success is largely due to the receptive staff of rural development department and the sense of awareness and hygiene that was created. The fact that Sikkim has no landless population also went in its favour,” he adds. The state’s former rural development secretary Anil Ganeriwala, who is now a joint secretary with the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, says, “If India needs to replicate Sikkim’s success, the bureaucracy must first appreciate the need for toilet as a precondition to human existence and dignity.”

Success across border

If a handful of states have shown the way to sanitation, efforts of two south Asian neighbours—Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—also stand out.

Ravaged by frequent floods and cyclones, Bangladesh has had to recast its sanitation programme because of high water table and clayey soil. It focuses on “faecal containment” or providing basic pit latrines without water. “This is an interim solution till the country can move up the sanitation ladder,” says Hamidou Maiga, who works for Unicef’s water sanitation and hygiene campaign.

The solution contradicts Unicef’s prescription: pit latrines with slab and water seal or a ventilated pit latrine. But in most of Bangladesh, the top soil is so clayey that pit latrines collapse. Therefore, septic tanks, shared among many houses, have to be installed. Moreover, hygienic latrines get damaged within two years because of corrosion, floods and cyclones. The poor living in coastal areas cannot afford this and the government programme does not extend repeated support.

Despite the problems, Bangladesh has given some sort of sanitation to 96 per cent of its people. Open defecation came down from 33 per cent in 1990 to four per cent in 2010. The country aims to eliminate open defecation by 2015. A massive joint effort of the government, non-profits and donors since 2003 has achieved this.

Sri Lanka, following a well-directed long-term strategy, has almost eradicated open defecation. Concerted efforts to raise sanitation and hygiene standards—a campaign led by the country’s ministry of water supply and drainage, non-profits and donors—have helped achieve this. The government separated sewerage and water supply work in 2009 and increased their respective budgetary allocations. Between 2000 and 2008, sanitation coverage went up from 69 per cent to 84 per cent. It has now reached 90 per cent. The focus is on improving sanitation coverage in plantation areas, resettlement zones of north and east, and among the fishing communities, marginalised groups and extremely poor.

Establishing a single entity to run the sanitation programme across the country was the most important step the government took. Now, strategies developed in Colombo are executed through the national water supply and drainage board (NWSDB) with help from other agencies. NWSDB chief engineer Ruwan Liyanage says the board trains masons in toilet construction.

The ministry of health provides special training to its frontline workers to maintain sanitation records. They are also handed over manuals for technical designs of toilets. Now, for local authorities to get approval of any building plan, it is mandatory to have a toilet in the house plan. The local authorities also undertake monitoring.

Under NWSDB’s sanitation guidelines, each household in a target community has to pay Rs 500 as qualifying fee to avail benefits. This payment creates demand and drives the process of building the toilets while health and hygiene messages ensure their continued usage.

This is where the lesson lies for India. The South Asian countries and some of India’s states show that the subsidy mode must be abandoned. Approaching sanitation as a precondition for human existence is best done by giving rewards. The sporadic examples show that total sanitation coverage definitely is possible.

With inputs from Nitya Jacob

Sikkim’s zero waste venture

It is unusual for a senior bureaucrat to befriend an informal waste dealer. But then Sikkim is known to break new grounds. There is a palpable sense of urgency on the face of Yishey D Yongda, joint secretary with the rural development department when she says, “It is scary to look at the pile of solid waste at the landfill outside Gangtok. The solution is not to depend on a dumpyard and instead recycle waste.”

In 2010, the rural development department introduced the concept of zero waste in Yangang village panchayat of south Sikkim. The panchayat signed an MoU with the block development officer on segregating solid waste at the local resource recovery centre. Households and shopkeepers were given seperate bins for non-biodegradable and biodegradable waste. Camps and door-to-door campaigns spread awareness on waste segregation at source. The department supplied the panchayat with pick-up vehicles to collect waste from households and shops. The vehicle has a partition for separating biodegradable from the non-biodegradable waste. At the resource recovery centre, waste is segregated further. The panchayat has its own utility vehicle which transports and sells recyclable waste to an informal dealer who does further segregation and sells it to recyclers outside the state. This way, solid waste neither piles up nor reaches the landfill. Biodegradable waste is turned into compost and sold locally. The money earned helps maintain and pay for labour at the resource recovery centre and for waste collection.

The idea sounds simple, but it threw up immense challenges for the hill state. To push a pick-up tricycle up the hill is not easy. There is only one large waste dealer in the state, Alam, who is now a friend of Yongda. During monsoon, transporting waste to Alam’s shed, an hour’s ride from Gangtok, the state capital, is difficult. Sikkim being a landlocked state the only channel to send recyclable waste outside the state is through Siliguri in West Bengal.

“After Sikkim earned the Nirmal Rajya status, funding from the Centre dried up. For solid waste management, we were given only Rs 8,000 per panchayat. It was because of our persistence that solid waste management is now a full-fledged component under NBA. With increased allocation of Rs 7 lakh per panchayat we can now buy utility vehicles and build concrete resource recovery centres,” says Yongda.

Lack of funds after 2008 did little to dampen the state’s zero waste initiative. The panchayats pooled in from their own funds and from the Nirmal Gram Award money. Resource recovery centres and approach roads were built from Centrally-funded employment guarantee scheme. In a remarkable gesture of implementing zero-waste, seven gram panchayats in Namthang block of south Sikkim pooled in their Nirmal Gram award money of Rs 85,000 each to build their own resource recovery centre. The zero-waste project has now spread to 14 gram panchayats in Sikkim. A state waste policy which is in the offing envisages zero-waste approach in all rural areas and municipalities. The state is on a mission mode, and a unique one at that.


Read more here —  http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/mission-possible


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