By Sunrita Sen
The story of Sriprakash Singh and Jalilpur village in India’s Uttar Pradesh state is an example of how committed and inspired leadership combined with a pro-active local government can work wonders.
When Singh first came to Jalilpur in 2002-2003 as a social worker, the environment in the village (pop. approx. 3,000), was unhygienic and diseases - mainly due to poor drinking water quality and sanitation practices - were rampant.
People have to be convinced that sanitation and good hygiene habits are the path to good health and the responsibility is theirs, not that of social workers or the government, says Sriprakash Singh, panchayat chief of Jalilpur village in Uttar Pradesh.
Most of the villagers defecated in the open and school sanitation facilities were minimal. At least 10 to 12 infants died every year due to diarrhoea and similar diseases. Rubbish was thrown in the roads and clogged drains added to the unhealthy environment.
Income levels are low in Jalilpur where most villagers work as daily wagers mainly in small businesses that have mushroomed along the highway to service a constant stream of trucks and truckers. “Men would drink and gamble and the women suffered the most,” said Singh.
Singh decided to take up the challenge of motivating the people of Jalilpur to improve their own condition. As a social worker and community mobiliser, he went from house to house talking to the men, and specially the women, on how the filthy atmosphere was affecting their health and that of their children. He would gather groups of youth and clean the roads and drains.
The villagers were impressed by Singh’s dedication. When elections to the gram panchayat or village-level government came around in 2005, residents of Jalilpur persuaded Singh to contest the post of panchayat pradhan or village chief and voted him to the post despite stiff competition from more well-funded candidates.
“They told me you will be able to work better for our village in an official position,” Singh recounted.
In two years – from 2005 to 2007 – Singh and his panchayat brought about major changes in Jalilpur. When Singh started his sanitation motivation work, only 20 to 25 percent of the better-off households in Jalilpur had toilets. Today, every household in the village has access to a toilet and the village is almost 100 percent free of open defecation.
“It was no easy task. Defecating in the open was a habit that went back centuries and spending hard-earned money to build a toilet was just not a priority,” said Singh. He went to the schools and held community meetings along with other panchayat members and district sanitation and health officials motivating teachers, students and villagers on the importance of building and using toilets.
The panchayat made full use of the funds available through the Government of India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) programme (federal government contribution Rs. 1,000 per toilet for each Below-Poverty-Line (BPL) family; Uttar Pradesh government contribution Rs. 500). It was not enough and the households had to be motivated to contribute Rs. 400 upwards for their toilets. Funds allocated by the 12th Finance Commission were also used for the sanitation programme.
“Children played an important role in our clean village campaign,” said Singh. “They would first persuade their parents to build toilets at home. They refused to eat or used similar pressure tactics if their elders didn’t use the toilets,” he said.
The anganwadi centres also played an important role in spreading the message of good hygiene habits. “You have to start young and then the habits stay for life,” said Ramashankar Singh, district Panchayat Raj officer of Chandauli.
Women were the first to come forward. “They were the easiest to convince because they are the ones most affected by the ill-health of their children and they felt more secure using toilets at home rather than going to the fields,” said Singh.
By early 2007, more than 90 percent households in Jalilpur had toilets. But Singh knew that they needed to be used regularly and by everyone. “We formed pressure groups including women. We would go to the fields, railway line and roadside early in the morning and shine torches on people defecating in the open. We would surround them and say: Please don’t do this. Keep your village clean. Please use the toilets in your homes.” The pressure tactics worked and few villagers in Jalilpur can now be found defecating in the open.
Jalilpur Gram Panchayat has also got an order passed and funds sanctioned for the building of a communal pay-and-use toilet for truckers along the highway. “These people who pass through the village soil its environment by defecating in the open. Once there are facilities in place for them with very low charges they will surely use them,” said Singh.
Jalilpur has inspired villages around it to aspire for a clean environment following Singh’s motto: “You have to take your future in your own hands and not depend on the government and social workers.’
Indiravati Devi, panchayat pradhan of adjoining Chaurahat village, said she was inspired by Jalilpur’s success to take up sanitation motivation in a big way in her village.
Total Sanitation Campaign is operational in all 70 districts of the state and a key role is being played in the upscaling of the programme by 17 divisional sanitation coordinators who are supported financially by UNICEF.
“Sri Prakashji decided to tackle the cause of disease and not merely the symptoms. That is the reason for his success,” said district panchayat official Ramashankar Singh. “When he first started working in the village, talking about hygiene and sanitation, the people realized that he had no personal gain in mind and they have supported him fully.”
Uttar Pradesh currently faces a daunting challenge with a target of 100 percent sanitation coverage by 2012. Currently only 42 percent households have sanitation facilities. The state plans to cover all schools and anganwadis with water and sanitation facilities by 2008.
“If more panchayats and their pradhans respond like Sriprakashji and Jalilpur, we may well achieve our ambitious targets,” said Panchayati Raj official Ramashankar Singh.