For the largely tribal population of Chhattisgarh, where large tracts of land are hilly and forested, facilitating open defecation, a big challenge has been the transition to indoor toilet use. Yet since its inception a mere seven years ago, the state has achieved a revolution of sorts in the field of sanitation.
The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), launched under the aegis of the Ministry of Rural Development’s Department of Drinking Water Supply, is being implemented in the state by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) with logistic support from UNICEF. It was inaugurated in the state by Chief Minister, Dr Raman Singh, in December 2004.
The Government Of India initiated the NGP for fully sanitised and open defecation-free Gram Panchayats, Blocks and Districts in June 2003. Chhattisgarh still has a long way to go to achieve the desired goal of total sanitation but it has, nevertheless, made significant inroads towards this end. From a bare 2.6 percentage sanitation coverage in 2001, the coverage is between 8-9 percent today, say officials of the state PHED. A total of 90 Panchayats have been selected for this year’s Nirmal Gram Puruskar (NGP). Of these, 27 Panchayats are in Bastar, 22 in Bilaspur, 16 in Rajnandgaon, 15 in Korba and 10 in Raipur.
The multi-pronged strategy implemented by the state involves capacity-building, awareness, logistics and participation and is overseen by a core committee under District Magistrates with members from the PHED and the Departments of rural Development, Public Education, Panchayat and tribal Affairs. Thousands of women from village self-help groups (SHGs), youth groups and Bhajan Mandalis have been recruited in the exercise, apart from the anganwadi workers as well as volunteers from the National Services Scheme and the National Cadet Corps.
The collector is an all-empowered entity, who works directly with the agency responsible for the programme – the PHED, and his/her level of interest and commitment determines the success of the programme. But the decentralisation process doesn’t end here. The TSC makes full use of the agencies – the Block and the Panchayats themselves. Victor Cage, Executive Engineer, Bastar district, says the funds for construction and maintenance of toilets in all the houses, schools, panchayat buildings and aanganwadis in Shankarpur, Shyampur, Kumpahara and Binjli are channelised through these institutions. The Village Water Sanitation Committee, which is constituted under the Sarpanch, is responsible to oversee the construction of the toilets.
In Rajnandgaon district, the 7201 SHGs in 1500 villages with 91,000 members actively took up the challenge of sanitation while in Bilaspur District SHGs in Masturi block developed women masons from among themselves. In Korba district, corporate units, both from the public and private sector, were involved to support NGP efforts. The approach of each district with regard of importance given to the programme is vastly different. With the highest number of NGPs in their district – 27 – it is hardly surprising that TSC is a top priority for Bastar. But Raipur district administration is serving the villages only on demand-basis and has sought to supplement efforts with increased awareness activities.
The biggest challenge today, feel officials, is motivation. The Collector and District Magistrate of Bilaspur, Mr Gaurav Dwivedi, feels the subsidy on the toilets should be made uniform for both below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL) families. Motivation and changing mindsets remains a challenging task, agree officials from other districts. For instance, Korba is a totally tribal block and people remain hesitant to use in-door toilets given the large open spaces available, observes Mr A K Sahu, PHED Executive Engineer of Korba. To tackle this resistance, villages like Shankarpur and Shyampur in Bastar and Chatouna in Raipur decided to fine villagers who continued to practice open defecation and it has even been implemented with vigour in Bastar, where the Collector, Mr Ganesh Shankar Mishra, himself made surprise checks and penalised villagers.