Public health and sanitation is a major issue in a country like India where atleast 620 million people have no access to toilets and resort to defecation in the open.
Poor sanitation due to open defecation has been linked to a lot of health issues including diarrhoea, intestinal worm infections, stunting (children are shorter than normal for their age) and anaemia. It also puts children at risk for poor early childhood development.
In the light of these issues, it is heartening to know that Dr Ashish Srivastava who is the Chief Development Officer of Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand state in northern India has helped construct more than 8000 toilets for 8000 families in just 20 days – from January 25, 2016 to February 15, 2016. This feat has entered the Limca Book of Records and along its way, has helped ensure health, sanitation, employment and even women’s empowerment. Swajal Pariyojna, which carried out the construction work for this project, has been recognised too.
Prior to this, it was common practice for women and men in this district to travel long distances outside their homes in order to relieve themselves. It was an arduous task for women especially, who would wait until dusk time to relieve themselves, hoping for a modicum of privacy. Then came along Dr Ashish Srivastava, who had a simple plan of building toilets for the locals.
When I took charge as a Chief Development Officer, one thing I noticed was lack of toilets at homes here and the difficulty our girls faced. I simply wanted to help these girls out and that’s when I decided to do something important like building a toilet for them. – Dr Ashish Srivastava.
He made it his personal mission to ensure that every single home in that district got a toilet. He convinced the pradhans of the 351 gram panchayats about his plans of building a toilet in each and every house. In no time, the villagers joined hands to help complete the mammoth task.
Only 3000 toilets remain to be constructed before Udham Singh Nagar district can be declared as “Open Defecation Free”, one of the main aims of the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Speaking to NDTV about the success story of the district, Dr Srivastava said,
“We divided villages as per the family size – If one village had 500 families living we built 20 toilets a day for them, for a village with 500-1000 families we built 25 toilets a day and for a village with more than 1000 families we built above 30 toilets a day, and that’s how we achieved the task.
This district serves as a great example of how government schemes when enacted properly can transform the lives of people and provide a good quality of life. Not only that, it was a combined effort by the entire community.
- Government: The funding for this work came from two government schemes- the Swachh Bharat Mission fund as well as NREGA funds that guarantees hundred days of wage-employment in a year to a rural household.
- Employment: Each family was given a sum of Rs. 12,000 once they constructed the toilet. This way more than 700 families got employment, as part of the NREGA scheme.
- The above initiatives can be called a success, only if it is actually being used for the purpose they were purported for. To ensure that, the district formulated a women’s group in each Panchayat and asked them to oversee the process of construction of the toilets, under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) scheme. They were also held accountable for making sure that each house was using the newly constructed toilets.
It is heartening to know that a simple pro-active action from the different stakeholders of the community can lead to such positive outcomes including the long-term effects it will have on public health, sanitation and hygiene of the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target is to make India free from Open Defecation by 2019. All these initiatives are part of the ambitious ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan‘ (Clean India Mission), a nationwide cleanliness drive launched by the PM on 2nd October 2014.