Zila Swachh Bharat Preraks - India's sanitation warriors

Tata Trusts, through its Tata Water Mission initiated the ZSBP program to help the Swachh Bharat mission achieve its goals.
For Akshant Nagar, 23, schoolchildren turned out to be the biggest driving force in helping to make Pipariya block in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh become open defecation free (ODF) in just seven months. Image credit: Tata Trusts For Akshant Nagar, 23, schoolchildren turned out to be the biggest driving force in helping to make Pipariya block in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh become open defecation free (ODF) in just seven months. Image credit: Tata Trusts

In 2014, the Government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) to accelerate efforts in achieving universal sanitation coverage. The issue of access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities also became a major Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-6) when the United Nation set 17 global goals in 2015 under the 2030 Agenda.

Tata Trusts, through the Tata Water Mission (TWM), has adopted a multi-pronged approach to help tackle these issues, and has been working with the Union Government and various State Governments in ensuring that India achieves the targets set under SBM and SDG-6. Tata Trusts is not only using the traditional strengths of community mobilisation and capacity building, but also the power of innovative approaches and technological solutions. In this context, one of the major initiatives of the Trusts has been the Zila Swachh Bharat Prerak (ZSBP) programme under the Tata Water Mission.

The Zila Swachh Bharat Prerak [ZSBP] programme was instituted in response to Government of India’s appeal to Corporate India to support the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Responding to this call, Tata Trusts, in 2016, collaborated with the erstwhile Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to support the Swachh Bharat Mission - Grameen programme by initiating the ZSBP programme. The Trusts have played a catalytic role in societal development while ensuring that initiatives and interventions have a contemporary relevance to the nation. One such issue of relevance has been that of access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all Indians.

The ZSBPs are a young cadre that supports district administration across the country to implement of the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin. The preraks are aiding the government in strategic planning for the implementation of SBM that includes preparing District Swachhta Plans, creating time-bound targets in ‘mission mode’, preparing monitoring and evaluating protocols and planning large community-wise interventions. The ZSBPs have directly supported the District Collectors to consistently work towards achieving total sanitation coverage.

So far, around 500 preraks have been deployed in 475 districts in India. Here are some success stories of Zila Swachh Bharat Prerak Programme by Tata Trusts.

Sandeep Dungdung – Jharkhand

In Latehar district of Jharkhand state, home to tribal communities that live amid thick forests and hills, Sandeep Dungdung, 32, was deployed in June 2017 as a prerak to tackle open defecation.

Image credit: Tata TrustsSoon after joining, Sandeep observed that the toilet coverage in Latehar was around 48%. Most of the villages in the district are in hilly areas, and there is acute water scarcity in the region. Success for the programme in Latehar depended on the initiative and efficiency of the 350-odd women self-help groups (SHGs) that were entrusted with building toilets for the villagers. Sandeep worked on further strengthening and supporting these SHGs. This included arranging masonry training for some SHG members to address the widespread problem of a lack of trained masons in the area. Bricks, too, were not easily available in the region as brick kilns are almost non-existent in Latehar due to its terrain. The SBM-G team tied up with a manufacturer to develop bricks made of cement using sand dredged from the rivers, which are in abundance in Latehar.

Over time, Sandeep successfully built a motivated army of foot soldiers to drive the programme with renewed vigour.  Sotam village, where 39 toilets were built in three months, is a prime example where the team ferried the materials across the river on boats as it was the only access route to the village. Sandeep also ensured that the accounting for the funds allocated was appropriately maintained. He is now making efforts to weed out the inefficiencies in data relating to toilets built under the programme.

The current toilet coverage in Latehar is 100%.

Upasana Negi – Tripura

Image credit: Tata TrustsUpasana Negi realised her true calling in life quite early. She wanted to work in social development, which led her to volunteer to teach slum children. Soon after completing her Master’s in Comparative Literature, she was selected for the Gandhi Fellowship. Towards the end of the fellowship, the 29-year-old from Siliguri applied for the ZSBP programme. Upasana soon realised the challenges of working in Dhalai, the largest district in the state of Tripura. The first challenge was getting used to traveling across hilly, forest terrains to far-flung villages with poor road connectivity. Upasana’s initial achievement translated to bringing together various departments onto a common platform and injecting synergy and urgency into their efforts.

The next roadblock was the reluctance of the residents of Dhalai —70% of which were tribals —to build household toilets. Their toilets were makeshift structures with effluents draining into open water bodies. The medical fraternity was roped in to spread awareness about the dangers of makeshift toilets and the need for SBM’s permanent structures. Needless to say, the campaign met with significant success.

Another unexpected obstacle was shifting cultivation practices of tribals in Dhalai district. It meant that the decision-makers in the family were never home when the team visited. This was overcome by setting up health camps at construction sites, where beneficiaries were informed and convinced about the perks of building toilets. “I used my knowledge of psychology to change their mindset,” says Upasana. The predominant tribal population also meant that the information, education and communication campaigns had to be tailored to suit local tastes. Videos in tribal languages were screened in the evenings when the whole village was present. A van plastered with SBM posters and screenings at schools served to further drive home the message. From 5,172 (47.35%) toilets constructed and geo-tagged in June 2017, which is when Upasana joined as a prerak, the numbers have gone up to 11,867 (80.44%) in May 2018. Coverage is now 100%.

Akshant Nagar – Madhya Pradesh

Image credit: Tata Trusts

For Akshant Nagar, 23, schoolchildren turned out to be the biggest driving force in helping to make Pipariya block in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh become open defecation free (ODF) in just seven months. Akshant learnt about the ZSBP fellowship in the final year of his MBA course. “I applied for the programme as it offered me the chance to work with the administration and see from close quarters how welfare measures are implemented,” says Akshant.

Pipariya was proving to be a tough territory for local SBM-G stakeholders. As of April 2017, only one out of 52 gram panchayats (GPs) had been declared ODF. Financial constraints, ignorance about the importance of toilets and the perils of open defecation resulted in people continuing to practice OD.  Sensitising the community was the first step. Using statistics such as the amount spent on hospitals and the savings that could accrue if open defecation was avoided, Akshant was able to create a conducive environment for change. He then enlisted the support of women and children, along with government welfare functionaries to drive change. He also conceptualised a Jidd Karo Abhiyan, encouraging children to demand toilets from their parents and families. Once the strategy gained traction, Akshant enrolled the children in an innovative campaign, Lota Ludkao Abhiyan, where the children toppled the water carried by people going to defecate in the open. Dongarwada is a shining example of Akshant’s strategies. Once ranked among the worst GPs on sanitation and health metrics, it also had to deal with rampant alcoholism. With the active support of a 120-strong group of schoolchildren, Akshant succeeded in putting an end to open defecation and bringing down alcoholism. From organising night meetings for people who worked during the day, engaging forest officials to reach out to forest-based communities, tailoring communication strategies to suit audiences, enlisting village revenue officials to create awareness – Akshant employed all possible avenues to meet his objectives. The efforts bore fruit and Hoshangabad was declared ODF on October 2, 2017.

Nayana Pradhan – Chhattisgarh

Working for the community is nothing new to 26-year-old Nayana Pradhan as her mother was actively involved in community development, which instilled in Nayana the philosophy of helping others. The opportunity to become a ZSBP prerak came her way while studying for her MBA. Upon selection, she was assigned to Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh as a part of the SBM-G team in May 2017.

People in the tribal district of Raigarh were indifferent to sanitation. Nayana realised that the conventional approach of talking about health and sanitation would not suffice. The message had to be stronger. Accordingly, she designed the communication around ‘Swasthya aur Suraksha’. The idea was to motivate the people to build toilets, which would not only lead to better health but also save women the embarrassment of relieving themselves in the open. Nayana and her team tried rallying the community through gram choupal meetings in the villages, but hit a wall.

Men would just not turn up for the gram choupal meetings. In the mornings, they would be at their farms and in the evening, at liquor dens. Undaunted, Nayana galvanised the SHGs to bring women to the gram choupal meetings. With relentless pressure, the SBM-G team along with the SHGs convinced women that open defecation not only degraded their modesty but also increased their vulnerability to physical abuse. This led women to convince their men that they were not only disrespecting their family’s honour but compromising women’s safety by having to defecate in the open in the absence of a toilet.

The SBM-G team constructed five model toilets — an activity that was replicated in various GPs across the district. These toilets were demonstrated to the villagers, especially women who started looking forward to relieving themselves securely within the privacy of their homes instead of in the open.

Under Nayana’s watchful eye, the block and district coordinators implemented plans meticulously, geotagging toilets and uploading their photographs to the Swachh Bharat portal. The team completed the geotagging of 30,000 toilets within 25 days. The multi-pronged approach worked wonders, and by November 2017, Raigarh was declared open defecation free.

Bandana Pradhan – Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh’s West Siang district is a hilly area interspersed with dense forests and few motorable roads, cut off for most of the year especially during the monsoons. Entrusted with the task of fulfilling SBM-Gs sanitation objectives, Bandana was deployed as a prerak here in March 2017. When she learnt about the ZSBP programme from an acquaintance, she realised that this was her opportunity to make a real difference.

As was the case across Arunachal Pradesh, people in West Siang had been following unsanitary defecation practices. Their ‘toilets’ consisted of a perch and covered wooden structures in the open, with pigs consuming the excreta that fell on the ground below. Attempts at sensitising them proved futile as in the absence of a regular income, toilets were not a priority. The state government’s push to promote tourism in the state helped Bandana. She met the tourism department and convinced them about the idea of promoting home stays in the area for tourists. With their support, she convinced households in a village to build toilets, saying toilets were needed to attract tourists. Bandana and her team also spread the idea of ‘Pay and Use’ toilets. Households in villages located near the road were encouraged to build and offer their toilets for use to travellers on a ‘pay per user’ basis. On seeing that income could be generated from toilets, the mind-set of the community changed in favour of building toilets.

As a result of these efforts, every house in the district constructed proper toilets, and West Siang was declared open defecation free on 30 September 2017.

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