Mobilizing community for better sanitation

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Bhawna Mangla and Rukhsat Hussain

Sanitation is a global issue affecting the health and well-being of the population.. It is the process of providing services and facilities for safe human waste disposal to maintain public hygiene. Using clean toilets, access to safe water and proper disposal of garbage are the main components in sanitation. According to UNICEF, only 21% of rural population was found using toilets in 2008. To promote the usage of toilets, Nirmal Gram Purasskar (NGP) was introduced under Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan (NBA) scheme. Under this, the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), which have played an important role in mobilizing the community to adopt better sanitation practices, are rewarded. The incentives vary from Rs 50 thousand to Rs 50 lakh rupees, depending upon the level and size of the PRI.

The question that comes here is how far has the scheme achieved success? Has it turned around the poor sanitation conditions in rural areas? Is NGP a motivating factor for PRIs to achieve sanitation targets or something else needs to be done? To find answers to these questions, we conducted a study in two villages—Nainangla and Bukharaka—with similar socio-economic conditions. Both these villages are located in same geographical region and administrative block of Mewat, Haryana.

Nainangla, our first study village, received Nirmal Gram Purasskar in 2011. Qualitative research in the village was carried out to find out whether the recorded number of toilets exist in reality and how far the efforts of panchayat have been able to transform the sanitation condition of villages. The research found that the real picture was different from the data in the government records. Interactions with the community revealed that very few toilets were constructed when the village was awarded. Even after three years of receiving the award, only 40-50% households in the village have toilets. The construction of toilets was undertaken in 2013, after the government announced that construction cost can only be claimed after the completion of toilet structures. Household toilet construction in Nainangla indicates two patterns—those who already had toilets, renovated them to avail benefits of the scheme as first timers and those who constructed new toilets. Since the need for toilets was not realized, the usage of constructed toilets was found to be limited. Inhabitants are still seen practicing open defecation. Furthermore, in the absence of proper drainage system, the waste water rushes down the streets in few uncovered naalis (drains).

We also found out that very few people in the village were aware of the NGP scheme. They also revealed that instead of facilitating toilet construction, Sarpanch distributed the construction materials to few households in an ad-hoc manner, rendering it insufficient for construction. With such attitude, the aim of NGP is completely defeated and the scheme turned into just another money making opportunity for Sarpanch and his allies.

On the contrary, our study at Bukharaka village portrayed an altogether different picture. The village has better sanitation situation in spite of not being awarded with NGP. The question here is “what could mobilize villagers of Bukharaka but not of Nainangla?” S M Sehgal foundation has been working in Bukharaka to build the capacities of Village Level Institutions (VLIs) and community since 2013. The success of this capacity building process is reflected in 75% (approximately) households that opted for toilet construction in 2014. A year back, it had roughly 2% household toilet coverage. Also, the streets in the village are clean, most of them being constructed in the last year. The village also fares well in the usage of toilets. No one practices open defecation here. Villagers informed that they were motivated to construct toilets, in return of their entitled financial assistance under NBA scheme. However, once they started using the toilets, they realized the ease and benefits of fixed point defecation. They further mentioned that they are not concerned about the pending subsidy. The remaining 25% households are also motivated to undertake construction seeing the benefits received by their neighbours.

The comparison is indicative of the fact that monetary incentive alone cannot stimulate rural inhabitants to adopt better sanitary practices. Instead, consistent mobilization of the community is needed to be able to achieve targets.

Are we ready to invest in the slow mobilization process?

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