Public hygiene initiative for villages has not worked: NGO

Public hygiene initiative for villages has not worked: NGO

Kolkata: Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP), which translates as clean village prize, was launched five years ago to promote sanitation in rural India with a cash reward for villages where every household and school had a flush toilet.

The public hygiene initiative hasn’t quite worked the way it was meant to, according to a study by a not-for-profit organization, The Action Research Unit, or Taru, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef.

To claim the status of a Nirmal Gram and the accompanying cash prize of Rs5 lakh, it is mandatory for villages with a population of 10,000 to eradicate the practice of answering nature’s call in the open—a practice the Union government aims to end by 2010.

But the study, with a sample size of 7,100 households and carried out between January and April 2008, showed that in 162 villages that had received the first and second lots of the prize in 2004-05 and 2005-06, the practice had resurfaced, said Ranjan Verma, director of Taru.

NGP is part of the government’s Total Sanitation Campaign intending to provide all households with water and sanitation facilities and promote changes in the behaviour of rural communities that will help achieve its goal.

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“It was thought that the financial incentives of NGP would give the villagers the necessary impetus to give up open defecation," said Verma.

But the monitoring system and social mobilization had been so heavily geared towards earning the Nirmal Gram status and the cash reward that comes with it that the gains were being frittered away, he said.

According to the ministry of health and family welfare, poor sanitation and diseases caused by this result in an annual loss of 180 million man-days and an economic loss of Rs1,200 crore in India, Mint reported on 11 November. Only by building 112,300 toilets every day can India ensure access to toilets for every household, the ministry’s website said.

In October, President Pratibha Patil gave away the NGP to a total of 4,278 gram panchayats, or village councils.

“The concept is laudable and has created a lot of awareness," said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, an organization that espouses public sanitation and waste management. “However, there are many shortfalls in the technology and implementation sides."

Toilets clogging up because of a lack of maintenance back-up and an insufficient number of trained masons were cited by Pathak and Verma as reasons impeding the scheme.

The Taru study was carried out to assess the impact of the programme in 162 villages spread across Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Besides the 7,100 households, it covered 500 schools and child- and mother-care centres known as anganwadis. The study found about 15% of households did not have access to a toilet and answered nature’s call in the open. “This is because within a panchayat there are houses which are either on the fringes or belong to those who don’t get along with the village ‘establishment’," said Verma.

And as many as 34% of the households that had constructed toilets did not use them regularly. “You will often find firewood or grain stored in the toilet," said Pathak. “That’s because either the toilets have packed up and people are defecating in the open again or their behaviour wasn’t really changed due to poor social mobilization... What is needed is training for local unemployed youths and masons who would become change agents," Pathak said.