Chattisgarh tribals learn to use the toilet

Written by: Abdul Nisar
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Adesar (Chhattisgarh), Dec.5 (ANI): Adesar village in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh is an innocuous village by the one of the main roads that run through the district.Development in terms of infrastructure or industry has not really made its presence felt here despite it proximity to the main road which in rural areas is always an indicator of the level of development or the programmes reaching the people. Unlike Bastar where tribal communities predominate, in Rajnandgaon, it is a mix of tribal and non-tribal population largely earning their livelihoods through cultivation of corn and wheat.

So what is unique about Adesar? Nothing except it is one of the villages in the district, which was supposed to have benefited from the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) initiated by the Ministry of Rural Development and implemented by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in Chhattisgarh. The motivation is no doubt laudable; to inculcate good sanitation practices among rural masses. More specifically, to eradicate open defecation, the root of many diseases and pollution of the environment. For this the modus operandi has been to promote the construction of dry toilets to all rural households meant to reach the optimum coverage by 2012.

In purely a theoretical way, it has been ingeniously designed to promote not only coverage in physical terms but promote a sense of participation from the community. For all BPL families, the scheme extends an amount of Rs.2,200 to construct a toilet, which would cost Rs.2,500/-, with the contribution of Rs.300/- designed to encourage community participation. It is noteworthy that Chattisgarh is the only state where even the APL families are allocated an amount of Rs. 1900 for toilet construction.

However any such move that aims to change fundamental practices which the community has carried on for generations however will require softer skills rather than hard implementation. There would be questions, apprehensions even opposition from different quarters of society for which the programme was not equipped. What was interesting is that village women were largely supportive of such a programme. They feared going to the forests sometimes one or two kilometers from their homes. It was not just the fear of sexual molestation but an underlying threat of Naxal attacks which runs in the minds of people. It is true that Rajnandgaon is not in the eye of the storm of the conflict as is Bastar, yet the reverberations are there. The presence of Naxals is there and some say it is growing. Conversely, the elders in the villages see little reason to incorporate toilets in their homes and are not convinced or could not care about its benefits.

Whatever be the divergent reasons, the response from the community has not been forthcoming. They are not ready to cough up the amount of Rs.300/- or Rs.600/- as the case may be for BPL and APL families respectively. The implementation process has not been able to capture the pulse of the people even though there have been attempts to create awareness through 'Rangmanch' or skits, songs and dances held at village common grounds to promote the message. In villages like Manpur and some in Chauki block, this was done but many others like Ambagard, Seoni and Kahadabri were left out. Was it the lack of funds or just poor planning that the awareness programme was done in such an arbitrary way?

Somehow bungling through all this, during this period, dry toilets came up all over the place but the construction was poor, the design shoddy. It seemed obvious to even an untrained eye that there was a scrounging and skimping of material that compromised these structures. These toilets were literally built with one sack of cement and 100 pieces of bricks. Sometimes the lack of building material was so obvious that literally a 'curtain' of sorts was hung from the basic structure. It was not uncommon to find old 'saris' or sackcloth substituting for walls!

The toilets in 'Chauki' block Rajnandgaon district has many such structures or apologies for structures. Many of them do not have doors to ensure privacy nor a proper structure to make the squatting convenient. By not listening to the people nor drawing them to the idea and its practice, the government agencies seem to be losing a golden opportunity to bring about a much-needed change on the ground. The programme could play a critical role in augmenting the health and creating awareness of sanitation amongst rural communities. Instead it seems to going in the direction of what has sadly become endemic especially in rural areas; poor implementation of programmes which are brilliant conceptually and also flush with funds.

The coverage is poor. In Chhattisgarh is meant to cover all districts and to build toilets for 15, 53,540 BPL families by 2012. According to a newspaper report, on 31st August, 2009, only 6,80,853 families have been covered. In Kanker district, 50,835 BPL families were meant to be covered with dry toilets but only 21,607 families were included.

Coming back to Adesar village, the shoddy structures makes a mockery of the programme intent and also of the villagers who have squatted under the open sky for as long as they can remember and have known their parents and grand-parents doing the same. The so-called 'toilets' cannot cope with the rains and are flooded. Some of these are being used as dump garbage.

Toilets built for BPL families in Bhanpur, Mohla and Antagadh Chauki are in a bad shape. Villagers in these areas allege that departmental officials had no compunctions in demanding their share in incentive amount.

At a macro level, the figures of sanitation coverage show a rise. From 2.6% in 2001 it is now 8.9%. The government has put in place an evaluation system which recognizes 'Nirmal Gram Panchayats; or panchayats which are 'open-defecation' free. Of the 90 in Chhattisgarh, 16 are in Rajnandgaon. Yet there is a flip side to the 'pretty picture' as many many villages in the district would bear testimony to. If any programme is to be 'universal', it needs to take into account the hurdles for non-implementation and effectively remove them. Without that commitment or accountability, according to Charkha development Communications, the political will to bring about 'development' for the rural communities seems a sham. By Dinesh Sahu (ANI)

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