March 2018

Sea change

A variety of smart initiatives on a war-footing helped Kaushik Kumar achieve breakthrough success in adding new toilets in Nanded and making the district open defecation free

"My stint as a prerak has been important in my development as an individual." says Kaushik Kumar, prerak, Nanded, Maharashtra

The case of Nanded district in Maharashtra was a particularly acute one. It had been woefully lagging behind on its open  defecation free (ODF) targets under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Between 2014 and 2017, only 115,000 toilets were built, resulting in just 150 out of 1,536 villages in Nanded turning ODF. To make up for lost time, 200,000 new toilets had to be added in 2017-18 alone.

This staggering challenge was right up 24-year-old Kaushik Kumar’s alley as he had always been interested in the area of sanitation. While studying for his master’s degree in water policy and governance from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, he had assessed a variety of sanitation missions and water-related policies.

Signing up as a Zila Swachh Bharat Prerak (ZSBP), Kaushik uncovered a few unique reasons for Nanded’s poor track record, other than the typical issues of limited awareness and money. “Strategy planning at the district level was scattered, and people manning the mission at the grass-roots level were working without proper direction. Also, some Sarpanchs were not ready to cooperate because of their political leanings,” he says.

Kaushik and his team took the Sarpanchs into confidence

Wake-up call

A radical redesign of the communication was clearly needed. The Nanded SBM team came up with the idea of pitching a toilet as a ‘savings account’, and showing people how they could save money by building toilets and using them.

When asked, villagers admitted to typically incurring a medical expenditure of Rs25,000-30,000 every year. Through detailed demonstrations they were shown how much of this expense was related to poor sanitation, caused in turn by open defecation. “We quoted real examples of health issues among local residents who lived near places where open defecation took place. There were some instances of deaths due to diarrhoea and stunted growth,” says Kaushik.

The team then explained how the villagers could save some of this money by building toilets with financial assistance under the SBM. The idea of potential savings on fertilisers by using the compost produced in the toilet pits was received favourably as well.

Kaushik decided to work on villages which were identified based on specific parameters, and ‘Missions’ were created based on these parameters. For instance, Mission Phoenix was about villages which had zero addition of toilets in the past year. For these, extensive ground-level activities such as Swacchata rallies, Swacchata Shram Dan and Sarpanch meets were conducted to raise awareness about the problems of open defecation and the SBM resources available for toilet building. Such activities were closely monitored along with data on progress made. Gram Sewaks were trained on how to effectively communicate stories about Sarpanchs who had done an exemplary job in making their village ODF.

Promise delivered

One tricky area was bringing those Sarpanchs on board who were not keen to participate in the SBM because of conflicting political interests. Convincing them took time for Kaushik, but the results began to show once that was done. The Nigarani Samitis also helped create a fair bit of community pressure on the Sarpanchs.

One initiative that had significant impact on the numbers was the SBM team’s participation in the Malegaon Yatra in December 2017. An annual fair held in Nanded district, the yatra sees an average footfall of 1 to 2 lakh people over a five-day period.

A stall was put up to disseminate information on the SBM through display of toilet models, distribution of booklets and posters, and organising spot quizzes around sanitation.

These relentless efforts have finally borne fruit — compared to the previous financial year’s total of 60,000 new toilets, this year 143,000 toilets have already been completed, and Kaushik and his team are well on their way to meeting the year’s target of constructing 200,000 toilets.

Importantly, Kaushik says the experience has been tremendously enriching, and taught him more than he expected. “Certain roles and responsibilities assigned to us were open ended. We could all take our own decisions, analyse the ground realities and then act. This was important in my development as an individual,” he signs off.