Swachh Bharat : Reflections from Mussorie Workshop


It was certainly a pleasure to listen to such conceptual clarity – Jashpur’s presentation on sustainability – and a satisfaction that Swachh Bharat has travelled long in three years. When the programme began , issues like sustainability, taking along marginalised, innovations were practically non-existent in the field. May be Jashpur is exceptionally well, but conferences such as these reinforce ideas such as community approach and behavioural change as the norm now and will definitely influence the rest. I found the concepts like dephasing, special involvement of marginalised and promoting natural leaders/ SHGs particularly impressive. Such workshops for cross learning – not ‘reviews’ – may be a regular ( monthly) feature at State level as well ( may be already happening in some States).

On sustainability, as CEO Jashpur said, its built- in from planning stage is critical. There were days when ODF/ Nirmal Sarpanches would feel disheartened – that none cares for them once they are Nirmal. The necessity of continued bond of 9 months (period significant !) with a village after it has become ODF stands out. It is also good to note ( and to bear in mind !) that ODF plus/ sustainability activities have to be primarily village-led ( eg swachhta polls by school children to catch recalcitrant open defecators!) and administration supported – rather than administration-led and village-supported.

On ODF Verification – the approach assumes importance. Like Robert said, it’s a corrective approach and not a punitive one. The verification teams are not policemen – yes their standards will be high ; but the community should view them as guides and not critics. What should be supreme – this approach of guidance ; or accountability marked by certification? The two are not totally contraindicatory; but i guess primacy has to be of trustful environment than cold accountability. One also needs to ponder on levels of verification as well – नीचे से report नहीं आयी – is unacceptable. There can be one good level of verification – done by a well trained team, that should suffice. I am not sure if raising the level of verification up to State level significantly increases quality.

Of technology and likeness for septic tanks, there does appear to be a strong case for going bolder in BCC strategy for twin pits – making it aspirational as one participant said today. The distinction required however, is not between twin-pit and septic tank : it is between a safe and an unsafe toilet. And for that, demonstration of toilet construction in a village goes a long way in clarifying technology and promoting safety.

On MIS, there were useful and precise suggestions – including bold ones such as having provision for undeclaring ODF. I guess, declaration is a village/ community prerogative and cannot be reversed : on verification, the rigour of verification will reduce chances of having to revert a verified ODF. However, bringing in system of second verification in MIS and initiating it in practice may provide opportunity of unverifying in case of a slip-back. Many other useful suggestions came from participants – perhaps the Ministry can form a committee including the field officers who brainstormed on the subject for pushing through key reform in a time-bound manner (many already underway) and with real time field feedback.

The group on BCC and partial usage threw up issue of National Sanitation Policy : something that has been discussed earlier. What after 2019 is fuzzy ; but beyond goals of Swachh Bharat, sanitation issue will remain pertinent. Clarifying this fuzzy part is not easy – and keeping goals for later can make us complacent now.

The way Swachh Bharat ( Gramin) – especially the community engagement part – has come up can have interesting lessons for other development programmes. In which other programme do you see a Collector/ CEO making it his mission : but more importantly people, not just gram panchayats, but natural leaders participating so heartily in social change. There may also be perhaps lessons for the sister programme, Swachh Bharat ( Urban) , wherein community engagement – especially that in slums – needs to be substantially enhanced for sustainable solutions.

The point mentioned on inclusion of subjects like ODF in school curricula is critical and may be expedited.

The preferred approach in sanitation has been community approach ( derived mainly from the CLTS – Community Led Total Sanitation approach). However, since the programme has (thankfully) assumed high political/ government priority, sanitation, there is an overarching governmental push for the programme. Someone called it GLTS (Government led total sanitation) ! A social change like swachhta may be government initiated; however its sustainability will depend on the extent of community ownership.

MHM – Menstrual hygiene management – is an interdisciplinary subject involving the Departments of education, health, women and child, and sanitation. However, given the reach of Swachh Bharat down to community level, and involvement of SHGs, natural leaders, adolescent girls – it is heartening to note and good to expect that these women swachhta champions take a leading role in destigmatising talk on menstrual hygiene and also pilot/ support good MHM practices in their villages.

The group on issues of marginalised deliberated well on the problems and possible solutions. This is however, a subject that requires greater discussion and brainstorming. A champion Collector, who had successfully implemented community approaches to sanitation in two districts in Rajasthan had mentioned that tribal districts have specific challenges that need to be specifically addressed. A separate national workshop on Swachhta and tribals/ marginalised is long overdue now.

Arushi and many champions like her comprehend reasonably well the capacity building issues – and are spearheading the same in their jurisdictions. However, there still remains constraint of skillful trainers and/or mechanisms for their quick deployment in any district where they are required. This needs to be addressed comprehensively.

Discussions/ Suggestion on media engagement were also interesting. I guess, one approach is ‘hands off’ – you do your work, and let media take a note ( work, good or bad cannot go unnoticed !) There may also be a merit in exposing media personnel to triggering tools by inviting them in training workshops. What Collector Mandi Sandeep Kadam did is also interesting. He taught whatsapp, including sending pictures, to mahila mandals in villages working voluntarily in swacchta. Those mahila mandals in turn, enthusiastically called local journalists to come and see the work they were doing ! The suggestion of Collector/ CEO directly contributing articles clarifying the approach, strategy, achievements, road map and challenges to public at large through print media is useful.

Swachhagrahis ( grass root swachhta motivators) are now being engaged more proactively. The recruitment of these Swachhagrahis is critical to ensure that people with right aptitude and grit get selected. Natural leaders may well to be formalised as swachhagrahis rather than a more formal recruitment. Weaning away old inefficient ones and taking fresh motivated ones is a change management process to be managed skillfully. Karnal did that. May be others too.

Lastly, on IEC, a decentralised ( district) system may be better than centralised (State). State has a role – but the mantra for higher levels is to take up only what the lower levels can’t do !




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