Water

Swachh Bharat Mission: Nilgiris sets example of community effort

More than 100,000 tribals, dalits and women raised a loan of Rs 20 crore to build toilets, after the incentive of Rs 12,000 per household was found insuffiicient

 
By Rashmi Verma
Last Updated: Monday 30 September 2019
Swachh Bharat Mission. Photo: Vikas Choudhary
In Tamil Nadu's Nilgiris district, most communities decided not to install taps in houses to minimise water consumption and ensure year-round supply for plantations and toilets. Photo: Vikas Choudhary In Tamil Nadu's Nilgiris district, most communities decided not to install taps in houses to minimise water consumption and ensure year-round supply for plantations and toilets. Photo: Vikas Choudhary

Toilets, whether mobile or in households, were a rarity till the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), in Tamil Nadu's mountainous Nilgiris district, tucked away in the Western Ghats.

“About 72 per cent of the households in this Tamil Nadu district lacked access to toilets due to lack of knowledge, adaptation and cultural constraints,” said Sampath Rajkumar of non-profit Rural Development Organisation, a trust that works closely with community on water and sanitation issues.

Under previous sanitation programmes, community toilets were set up, but failed due to lack of maintenance. Most villages are scattered across the hills and are surrounded by tea and coffee plantations.

Chances of getting attacked by a wild boar or an elephant while defecating in the open are high in such regions. So, communities came forward for individual toilets when the government offered an incentive of Rs 12,000 per household under SBM.

“The amount was not enough to build a toilet in the mountainous region where transportation and labour costs are steep but it gave the much-needed fillip,” said Rajkumar. Over 100,000 tribals, dalits and women formed self-help groups and raised a loan of Rs 20 crore to build toilets.

The struggle has now instilled in the communities a new sense of judicious use of water. “Every year, during the five-month dry season, water level in the local reservoir dips to alarming levels. To ensure its year-round availability for plantations as well as toilets, we have introduced a rationing mechanism,” added Sridevanna from Indiranagar village.

“The public works department provides us water from this reservoir. To minimise consumption and reduce wastage, we have decided not to install water taps in our houses. Instead, five houses share one tap,” said Sundermurty, from B Manihatty village.

Experts are, however, not sure if these villages can can be sustain being open defecation free. “Due to space constraint, 60 per cent of the toilets have single pits or septic tanks with flawed designs,” Rajkumar noted.

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