May 2007: Fifty-year-old Jagdish Patel, Sarpanch, Bahoripar Panchayat of Jabalpur district Madhya Pradesh is bracing himself for the day when he will shake hands with the President of India.
He is having a new outfit stitched for the lifetime occasion. Jagdish is one amongst several thousand Sarpanchs (village chieftains) across the country who will receive the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (Clean Village Award) from the President of India in the 4th May 2007.
Bahoripur is one of the 41 gram panchayats of Jabalpur division to win the title of ‘Nirmal Gram’ this year. Bahoripur, with a population of 1,800 including 900 women, provides evidence how sanitation can bolster health, foster harmony and enhance living standards for all inhabitants.
The hamlet has one middle school and the villagers’ livelihood centres around agriculture. As many as 31 houses have bio gas plants providing fuel for cooking purposes.
“To change the mindset of the veterans was the main challenge,” says the Sarpanch with a sense of elation. “That is when we thought of involving the children. We formed a ‘Vanar Sena’ (monkeys’ band) of small children whose task was to monitor the entire process of implementation. If at any time they saw someone going to the fields with a ‘lota’ they would blow a whistle and raise an alarm. This would embarrass the person who was flouting the rules,” the Sarpanch adds.
The children were also taught hygienic habits and a group of students in the school would monitor on day-to-day basis the general ‘hygiene quotient’ of a child. The first period in class was dedicated to the virtues of sanitation.
“There has been a noticeable decline in the number of persons affected by diarrhea and dysentery,” says 35-year-old Sangeeta.
A few kilometers from Bahoripar is another village, Churia, which falls within the Nirmal Gram Panchayat Dohra. A milestone at the entrance to the village showcases the vital statistics of the hamlet — the population, number of people living below the poverty line, number of handpumps, and primary schools etc.
The clean lane with houses on both the sides has one unique feature. Each house has a small black board with the name of the house owner and his designation. Notwithstanding the ‘dismal’ literacy rate, the villagers including the old grannies have discarded their traditional ways of relieving themselves. “It is good that we don’t have to go the jungles. We used to be scared of being attacked by snakes and wild animals.”
The daily average income per head in the village is Rs 40-50 (US$ 1). “On an average construction of toilet costs Rs 1,500 (US$ 35.70). We got a subsidy of Rs 1,200 (US$ 28.50), the rest we contributed from our own savings,” says the Sarpanch of the village.
Jabalpur division has notched up the highest number of ‘Nirmal Grams’ in Madhya Pradesh this year.