I have never ever written reactively to media. There were days in Nanded, where I worked as Municipal Commissioner, and where, speaking humbly, work in the city was being acclaimed, when one day, since I could not visit a site (my wife had a medical emergency) where a senior journalist had asked me to visit – he wrote an editorial, saying that my work was ‘nirashajanak‘ (disappointing). The article did not affect me a bit, and I went about my work. Thankfully, people of Nanded saw me day in and day out in the field, in slums, and refused to base their opinion on that article.
Being passionate about the subject, and having been trained in community approach, I myself get disturbed when Swachh Bharat leaves track of behaviour change approach and I mince no words in either trying to correct it myself, or bring it to the notice of concerned. However, the way ‘Truth vs Hype’ programme on NDTV projected Swachh Bharat yesterday, i feel the programme should be renamed ‘Truth vs Lies’ – for a misrepresentation is nothing but a lie. Here is why.
Swachh Bharat is not something that can be painted with one brush. From the motivators in Punjab, who actually went to the extent of picking up shit in their own hands to trigger the population, to common people who not only built toilets, but also utilised the opportunity to build bathrooms along with that; from the spirit of Haryana – starting from Panchkula, Karnal, and then spreading to the entire State – exemplified by two young girls of Karnal, who built a toilet by going against their parents, and dissociation of toilet construction with incentive money; from thousands of women belonging to Mahila Mandals of district Mandi in Himachal, who sweep the streets of their village every Sunday, have dug soak pits, and moved on to celebrating birth of a girl child, and became so empowered that they began to defy the social custom of having to stay in unhygienic stables during their menses; from hordes of villages in districts like Shamli, Varanasi, Bijnaur, Agra, Hathras, Saharanpur of Uttar Pradesh, where there has been a massive shift from contractor-driven construction of toilets of earlier days to self-construction and to focus on usage, and where immense effort has been undertaken to build capacities of implementing staff in community approaches, where ODF war rooms have been set up to constantly break bottlenecks, where a motivator, even on the day of delivery of his wife, chooses to stay in the village, since that is being declared ODF that day; from Rohtas of Bihar, where the poorest Moosahars have also been engaged in the programme, and thousands of self-help group women of Jeevika engaged all over Bihar are in the process of behavior change; from a village youth in Assam who has been weaned away from a dangerous path by absorption in this pious work; from Hardas, Narsingpurs, and Sehores of Madhya Pradesh where there are countless stories of human grit displayed in Swachh Bharat- such as the gulabi gang –women wearing pink saarees and doing bhajans early morning on the pond side, shooing away open daefecators, to tippy tap innovation of Sehore, making hand washing easier in schools and anganwadis, to ODF Olympics, group sports held in ODF villages to bond people further together, to motivators even forgoing their food, if required, while staying overnight in villages, motivating people; to districts of Chhattisgarh, where people and administration worked to build toilets, not for money, but after getting convinced that open daefecation affects their health, where lakhs of children wrote letters to their parents on a single day, requesting them to build toilets for them, where adolescent girls of ‘Orange Brigade’ in Mungeli district took it upon themselves to lead the movement, where Padmashree Phulwasan Devi led more than a lakh women in Rajnandgaon district in this movement; from Chikamaglur district of Karnataka, where moved by a teenager girl Suneetha, whose father refused to build toilet in house, the taluka team built toilet in a day out of their pocket, where they engaged with tribals, winning over first their leader/opinion maker; from Kerala, where the State pushed 3 Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle quite effectively, to the extent of conducting ‘green’ elections – with minimal generation of waste; to Tamil Nadu, where successful solid waste biogas plants have been set up in Coimbatore, and where the self-help group women are in the lead of this movement; Swachh Bharat is all of this and much more. These stories will perhaps, never come in mainstream media. But these are truth; these signify change.
Let us now look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that sanitation coverage in this country increased at a dismal annual rate of 1% for three decades from 1981-2011. In Swachh Bharat, this pace has increased ten times, with sanitation coverage increasing roughly 10% every year. Do we want to continue at 1% and make India ODF in 70 years ? The increase of pace does not mean that processes have been lost sight of. On the contrary, Swachh Bharat, unlike any other sanitation programme before, has focused most on engagement of people and on behavior change. For the first time, Swachh Bharat introduced the concept of ODF –Open Daefecation Free, that signified two key things. One, the perspective changed now to elimination of open daefecation, and not construction of toilets. The ODF approach includes usage of toilets – obviously, unless the toilets are used, open daefecation will continue ! As part of verification, the village is checked for any signs of open daefecation, besides confirming usage of toilets from households. Secondly, ODF changed the concept of sanitation from individual to collective – this is in tune with the understanding that sanitation is a public good, and that good health requires that everyone in the community uses toilets. For the first time, any government programme has dared to measure outcomes, not just outputs. A complex factor, such as behavior change is being captured in the ODF parameter, since unless there is a behavior change, there cannot be usage. All this has not only been laid in policy, it is part of part of implementation, and part of monitoring. This ODF concept is in tune with what Rashtrasant Tukdoji Maharaj said more than half a century ago :
“तैसेचि करावे चरसंडास । मळ दिसोंचि न द्यावा कोणास । आपुल्या मळाची आपणांस । व्यवस्था लावणें सोयीचें ॥नदीकिनारीं वा बोरंगांत । शौचासि जाती स्त्रियादि समस्त । ती कुचंबणा आणि घाण निश्चित । दूर होईल चरसंडासे ॥”
(It means, human excreta should not be visible to anyone including human beings, animals, birds and creatures like flies. We must dispose off our excreta properly. If we use toilets ( those days चर संडास were in use ) , it will take care of disposal and also will free the women from agonies of going for defecation in open)
Some of the above examples would have underlined another thing about Swachh Bharat – that Prime Minister has often mentioned. Swachh Bharat is not a typical government programme. It is a Janandolan, that is involving the people. In a typical government programme, government provides a good or a service to people, the ‘beneficiaries’. The way to measure the progress of that scheme is whether that good or service has reached people. Here we are talking of changing behaviours – both of implementers, who are to get into facilitators’ role, and of those who have been going out for centuries. This is a social change, one of unprecedented scale. Nowhere in the world, has a behavior change programme of this scale ever been attempted. We are learning by doing. We have experience of what went wrong in earlier programmes, and we have tried to rectify it. We also know what was done in neighbouring countries, and we have picked up the best practice and contextualized that to our country. For this, massive capacity building exercise has been taken over the past three years. Community approach that was confined to one or two places in the country pre-Swachh Bharat is the norm today. In remote villages of this country, I have witnessed villagers and natural leaders coming up and demonstrating in their local language, the trigger tools of shame and disgust, such as dipping a hair in shit and mixing it with water. This did not happen overnight or organically or automatically. More than 500 of the 650-odd Collectors of this country were called to Delhi in batches and given exposure to community approach. The direct training of Collectors by Centre does not happen in any government programme, but Swachh Bharat could not have kick-started without it. In each State, a State level workshop was held with all the State and district officials, and workshop on community approach held. In those days, it was just a few facilitators trained in community approach in the country, and a few ‘champion’ Collectors who had practiced this approach. These few people were used to spread the message, to multiply champions. Social media like WhatsApp was used to connect the champions, to constantly expose others to this approach and to keep up the motivation. In order to multiply training agencies, good organisations of repute in States were given orientation, so that they could carry out these trainings at the district and field level. Help of multilateral agencies such as UNICEF and World Bank was taken to sponsor these trainings in the States. Officers like Amit Gupta in Uttar Pradesh (and many more- not taking names) utilized these trainings to bring about a shift of attitudes in the way of working and to equip the implementers with adequate skills. Such a huge capacity building and reorientation programme – that is being continued across many districts as I write this – has been the silent work behind the motivated people working in this programme from Centre to villages.
Thirdly, and most conspicuously, the programme today stands as a foremost priority amongst the development programmes. A Collector runs close to a hundred programmes, and all of them are important. However, sanitation has come to occupy his/her top agenda today. Realising that sanitation requires leadership at the highest level, and also coordination amongst multiple departments, the Collectors were engaged to lead the programme from day 1. The district Collector, being head of the government in the district (or CEOs of Zilla Panchayats, heads of Rural Development) is in a unique position to involve all government departments as well as all sects of the society. Shanmuga, CEO of Harda, Madhya Pradesh, used to say, ‘our stakeholder in Swachh Bharat is every citizen of my district – unless everyone is involved, programme does not succeed’. From school children, to adolescent girls, to self help group women, to natural leaders, to panchayats, to professionals, to health workers to teachers, to opinion makers, to religious leaders to elected representatives – all have been involved in this movement.
Fourthly, a ‘toilet’ is no longer a sanitation symbol. No other programme touches everyone. The Swachh Bharat, with its collective approach and focus on ODF – that necessitates a collective action – ensures that everyone – people of all caste, communities, including the marginalized – have to come together for making their village ODF. There are villages that refused to celebrate Diwali and Eid, till their village became ODF, and then celebrated the two festivals together. ODF achievement is today a social festival that cuts across class, caste and community. Since the community approach does not restrict itself to engagement of only panchayats or opinion makers, but reaches out to the last person, it has led to empowerment of the marginalized groups and champions have emerged from these groups. Women, who would not speak in public, are today leading this revolution in villages, away from glare of mainstream media. A handicapped person in Chhattisgarh, decorates his wheel-chair and goes from house to house till his village is ODF. Transgenders join the movement in Madhya Pradesh and Osmanabad. This empowerment, this unleashing of positive potential of villages, installation of pride in them, having participated in this social change is the strength of Swachh Bharat.
टोयलेट तो एक बहाना है
हम को देश बनाना है
A programme of such mind-boggling magnitude is bound to have challenges. Swachh Bharat is aware of those challenges. The first challenge is that we are attacking habits – and habits are hard to die. Different types of innovations are emerging to sustain the changed habit. The villages are devising novel do’s and don’ts to ensure that people do not continue to go out. This sustainability itself is a nine month cycle. The scale of the programme is another challenge. Around 40% villages have declared themselves ODF, 60% remain. Capacity building has to be continued, focus on behavior change maintained and champions created. The rigour of ODF verification has to be maintained. All this is work in progress – wings of aeroplane are being painted while the plane is flying !
This is Swachh Bharat in its entirety. And what was portrayed yesterday?
There are more than six lakh villages in this country. A commentary on Swachh Bharat should comprehend this programme, visit the length and breadth of this country, and bring out the positives and challenges. It is easy to find three villages, and create an impression that no meaningful work has been done in Swachh Bharat. It is not difficult to extract a ‘no’ from an old person in front of a camera when asked a leading question , ‘aap ko kisi ne swachh bharat ke bare mein bataya hai?’ Reminded of the movie ‘Peepli Live’ ? The TV show projected that only 40% of the villages declared ODF have been verified – thereby creating an impression that the rest are not ODF. As explained, the responsibility for declaring a village as ODF lies with the village themselves, since they are supposed to effect that change. After declaration is done, one waits for some time (around three months) and then verification is done, to check sustainability. The process of verification and new declarations goes hand in hand, and is a continuous process. The ODF Verifications are being prioritized, as also the quality of verifications. In addition, third party verifications are being done. The Quality Council of India surveyed 1,40,000 households in May 2017 and found a coverage of around 62.5 % (similar to Government figures) and usage of 91.29%..Another survey by the National Sample Survey Office in 90,000 households done two years ago found usage figures as high as 95 %. The show however ignored to mention these evaluations, and focused on a two-year old report done by an agency with a small sample size of around 7500. It is clarified that after this agency’s report came out and they mentioned ‘ghost toilets’ (that was mentioned in yesterday’s show as well), the Ministry requested the agency to share this data so that corrections can be made. The agency however, refused to share the data, mentioning ‘confidentiality’. This, compared to Swachh Bharat online MIS, where data of 17 crore households, of each and every village, is in public domain. The agency’s report mentioned ‘less expenditure on IEC’, when Swachh Bharat has long moved beyond conventional IEC to direct engagement of people, much of which is being done in a voluntary mode. By using indicators such as ‘number of visits to a household after a toilet is built’ , the agency has disclosed its lack of comprehension of the processes, spirit and soul of the Swachh Bharat, that has long transcended a typical ‘sarkari’ programme and become a movement. My co-panelist from the agency quoted from the Idea Book, authored by me, mentioning that construction should not be the focus’. Wish some new suggestion had come!
Shri Wilson mentioned about the manual scavenging and the plight of cleaning of sewer lines. The Ministry of Urban Development, that looks after Swachh Bharat (Urban) must be seized of the matter, and may comment on the same. (My views above are limited to Swachh Bharat –Rural, with which I have been associated). In rural India, the toilets being promoted are twin-pit toilets, where the faecal matter gets converted on its own into harmless manure after 1-2 years of stoppage of use. The pit can then be emptied by the household owner himself. In order to promote this, and address the ‘yuck’ factor associated with toilet waste, the highest officials of Swachh Bharat in rural areas have entered the toilet pit and dug it themselves. This should be a strong weapon against the tradition of involvement of only certain castes in cleaning of toilets. The awareness on pit-emptying needs to be strengthened further. Also, under Swachh Bharat, most of the insanitary latrines (around 2.5 lakh so far) – that may lead to manual scavenging –have been converted to sanitary ltrines. However, one needs to be constantly watchful and focus specifically on this issue, until this is fully addressed.
As the show was on, the anchor was anxiously directing his team to show visuals of people going to field (for open daefecation). This picture is not new to India: unfortunately, Indians for centuries have seen, if not practiced it. It might have helped the TRP, though. A visual of a girl going on fast, until her toilet is built; or of children and women going out at 4 am to prevent people from going out would have created more impact, reflected the ground situation, instilled hope. And might have helped the TRP as well. That would also have been the truth, not hype.