Rural Water and Sanitation

Swachh Bharat Mission: Sustenance is the mantra

Changing a habit requires time, effort and constant motivation

By Sumedha Kataria
Published: Monday 30 September 2019
Swachh Bharat Mission has to be demand driven. Photo: Srikant Chaudhary

When I joined as the block development and panchayat officer in Haryana in 1989, my first assignment was to visit villages in Kaithal. During my trip, I wanted to use the washroom and asked for one at the sarpanch’s house. His wife replied that they go out in the fields. The shock coerced me to get involved in the sanitation campaign.

As the district magistrate of Kurukshetra in 2008, I campaigned for behavioural change among people and told them why they need to stop defecting in the open. We incentivized constructing and using toilets, and finally were successful in making 300 villages in the district open-defecation free (ODF).

When I returned to Kurukshetra in 2013 after one round of posting, except for 67 ODF villages, all had slipped. People had stopped using toilets. We realised that this is not a one-time exercise.

Changing a habit requires time, effort and constant motivation. People need to know that the authorities, be it the sarpanch or the district administration, are with them, backing them and watching them.

The programme has to be demand driven. Till people don’t ask for toilets, better sanitation and hygiene, it cannot be a success. People have to become responsible by forming self-help groups or small teams, which continuously motivate people to use toilets. This is the only way to sustain our ODF status.

Rural areas are performing well in this, but there are problems in urban areas. In some places, 20 people live in a small house and use one community toilet. Mobile or community toilets for a large population are a failure.

A toilet can be maintained well when few people use it. If not for every household, toilets must be built for every two to three houses. Keys should be provided to people so that the toilets are not treated as community toilets.

In rural areas, the environment is just right to boycott anyone who defecates in the open. ODF can become sustainable if everybody becomes sensitive to the problem. The fight is much bigger than ODF. We have moved to ODF Plus. Our task is cut out. The fight is long. To sustain the achievement, we need constant effort, not interference. 

Sumedha Kataria is the district collector of Panipat

Views expressed are the authors' own and don't necessarily reflect that of Down To Earth

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