Kerala offers lessons for Swachh Bharat

It is not just lack of education, but non-availability of water which rendered Swachh Bharat ineffective.

Thiruvananthapuram: The number of toilets constructed under Swachh Bharat mission has gone up, but the usage has not. According to a survey conducted by the national sample survey office between April and July last year, fewer than half of the toilets constructed are being used. Even in urban areas,
the usage is low, according to the survey.

As Swachh Bharat aims to end open defecation by 2019, two experts K. Balachandra Kurup and K.A. Pisharoti have written a book of lessons, ‘Handbook on Promoting Sanitation and Hygiene in India,’ hoping to make the mission a success..

They say in the preface that they “do not claim that all that is written in the handbook is new.” For what they present are old case studies of Sarola village in Maharashtra, Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, Sabarkantha district in Gujarat and Nirmal Menstrual Hygiene School in Kancheepuram. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, we can learn from the best practices followed in the country,” says Mr Kurup.

However, the most successful campaign against open defecation, according to Mr Kurup, happened in Kerala in the nineties. Consider the words of Suhara, a resident of Perumathura. “When they said that you should wash your hands with soap after defecating, we thought it was a joke,” she is quoted in the book as saying.

The officials invested much time and effort on educating the public and taking them into confidence. The book offers much insight into the complex reasons that motivated the people to use a latrine.

It notes on page 129: “Initially, health and hygiene do not figure among people’s reasons for wanting a latrine. Motives differ dramatically.” Among the many reasons cited in the book, one was that latrines were “a plus point for contracting marriages.”

Their questions would be answered and masons would be allowed to start latrine construction only after the designated households show a certificate proving that they attended a community-led education seminar.

Another key lesson it offers is that subsidies will not be of much help if the community involvement is little. “The centrally-managed latrine subsidy of the CRSP did not stimulate more construction or better usage of latrine facilities,” it reads on page 101. “A key reason for the lack of progress was insufficient accountability of public officials,” it says.

The involvement of panchayati raj institution is what ensured the success of the sanitation programmes in Kerala, according to Mr Kurup. “The construction was monitored by a people’s committee. All materials, construction cost and proposed timeline for project completion would be posted in public. This brought in accountability and reduced the chances of corruption,” he says.

Mr Kurup says that Swachh Bharat has not focussed enough on educating the public. “Varanasi is one place where a high number of toilets were constructed, but the percentage of unused toilets is as high as 80 per cent. We noticed that in some places where the number of toilets is less, the usage is quite high. We believe this could be because, in these places, they might have spent time on raising awareness,” he says.

It is not just lack of education, but non-availability of water which rendered Swachh Bharat ineffective. The book is aimed at the panchayati raj officials at all levels. “We hope that the book should also reach out to youth, social organisations and school authorities. However, let me add that this book is for the entire nation, as everyone working together will help make the programme successful,” he says. Mr Kurup is the programme director at the International Institute of Waste Management (IIWM), Bhopal. Mr Pisharoti is a health and population specialist.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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