By Nitya Jacob
Pune, Maharashtra: Vishnu Gyanu Kshirsagar is a latter-day Sant Gadge Baba who goes around sweeping his village and cleaning drains. His mission after retiring as a police constable is to emulate the late Maharashtrian. The revered Baba started a revolution in the state by going from village to village, cleaning and preaching hygiene way before these things became part of the government and UN lexicon.
Kshirsagar emerges slowly from his mud and tin hut in Dhamner village, next to the Krishna River in Maharashtra’s Satara district. Eyes blurred by cataract, beard white and head bald, he folds his hands and says, “My vision is to clean as many villages here so that people make cleanliness a habit.”
Villagers in the Satara and neighbouring Pune districts have worked with their Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) representatives to clean up their villages. This means total sanitation – toilets in each house so people do not use fields for defecation. Also garbage segregation, vermicomposting of organic waste, sanitary landfills for inorganic waste, drains to channel water, waste water treatment and reuse, wind turbines for power, biogas for cooking, and regular cleaning of the village.
Dhamner village headman Shahji Kshirsagar says, “The habit of total sanitation has become so ingrained here that we in the Panchayat do not need to do anything now. The villagers keep their village completely clean. They have even got over the mental block of using human waste-generated biogas for cooking.”
Dhamner with 488 families has transformed itself into a model in five years. There are 71 community toilets for the poor, and 325 households have their own toilets. The village has no dirty water flooding the streets – waste is collected in drains, and processed in settling tanks at four locations. Processed water is used for horticulture.
There are vermicompost sheds at different locations where solid organic waste is converted into manure. The village plans to install a 15 kW wind turbine to light up common areas, and serve the few households where grid power does not reach. The houses are painted pink, and the doors with the Indian flag.
One community toilet, next to the village temple on the riverbank, has a biogas plant that meets the cooking needs of around eight nearby houses. They pay the Panchayat Rs 100 per month – the money covers the cost of maintaining the other community toilets. Dhamner has emerged as a model hygienic village. But all this took a while to achieve.
In 2001, the village was divided along family and caste lines. Many local leaders were in jail following inter-caste violence. Shahji, a burly man in his late 30s, decided enough was enough.
“I started a movement to unify the village and picked on hygiene,” he recounted. “The first thing was to educate villagers on hygiene. The second was to stop them from defecating in the open by building community latrines. Step by step we introduced other measures till we achieved what you see here today.”
Ashok Desai, chairman of the village cleanliness campaign, added, “We began education through schools and conducted a door-to-door campaign on the need for hygiene and its benefits.”
This culminated in Dhamner bagging both the Nirmal Gram Puruskar (NGP) from the President of India, and at the state-level it won a cash award under the Sant Gadge Baba Swachata Abhiyan (SGBSA) of Rs 2.5 million. SGBSA is a state-level sanitation campaign launched in 2000.
Dhamner is one of 115 villages in the Satara district to have got the award in 2006. 300 villages is the target for 2007. Shortly thereafter the district hopes to bag the zilla puruskar. 379 villages in the state won the NGP awards in 2005-2006.
This year, there are a whopping 2,959 applications from around the state, says Director, Water Supply and Sanitation, Sanjeev Kumar. But the state has a long way to go. “Just 3,000 of the 28,000 Gram Panchayats have been covered by the sanitation campaign.”
The story in Pune is much the same. Dehu village is an hour away. Dr S. V. Mapuskar is a doctor there who has dedicated his life to health and hygiene.
“I came here in 1960 as a doctor and stayed to improve the villagers’ hygiene,” he recounted. “When I began working here, I noticed water borne diseases dominated health problems. I hated to use the fields for defecation and decided to build some toilets. But they collapsed in the rains.”
The wiry doctor studied other toilet designs, finally picking an indigenous one. Then came the harder task of convincing villagers of the need. He demonstrated the link between worm infestation and open defecation. And followed up with an information blitzkrieg, using public meetings and posters.
It paid off. People started coming forward to make their own toilets - just 100 in the first year. By 1986, when the Government of India launched the Central Rural Sanitation Programme, Dr. Mapuskar and the Panchayat had already covered half the village without subsidy.
The village now has drains to channel wastewater into settling tanks, from where it is released into fields. Sewage is converted into vermicompost and distributed as manure. Many households with toilets have a Mapuskar-design biogas plant that supplies them cooking gas.