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What India can learn from Himachal Pradesh by convincing villagers to build their own toilets to end open defecation?

By Amit Sengupta

Himachal Pradesh should find a proud mention in the seemingly insurmountable struggle of India’s sanitation history. The state radically transformed itself by shifting from a subsidy-driven policy to built toilets to a completely no-subsidy game changer which rapidly increased the coverage of sanitation on its map. Himachal (a state with 12 districts and a population of 68.65 lakhs as per Census 2011) declared a no-subsidy policy in the year 2005-06 and introduced the concept of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) for the first time to tackle age old practices of open defecation amongst its hilly communities.

Himachal is on its way to being declared an Open Defecation Free state by March 2017, according to Government circulars uploaded on their website. According to the Baseline Survey 2012-14 (data in Swachh Bharat Mission, Govt. of India), Himachal has achieved 96.99 % sanitation coverage. Deepak Sanan, former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh and a rare Indian bureacurat who is a champion of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach said to this author: “Getting the policy framework in place is the first and foremost necessary condition to implement community-led total sanitation. Getting the policy right is the first step. If we don’t have the right policy, everything else fails.”

Mr. Sanan was a senior bureaucrat in the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh who championed the implementation of the CLTS approach that led to withholding of upfront hardware subsidy for toilet construction in the year 2005-06. The next four to five years from 2006-10 witnessed a massive surge in the coverage of sanitation throughout the state. Nauni Gram Panchayat in Solan district of the state was declared the first Open Defecation Free (ODF) panchayat in Himachal. This was the triggering point of the movement.


What were the critical factors for success of CLTS in Himachal?

Nauni panchayat which was once a tiny non-descript yet picturesque village (with a huge potential of horticulture – the place hosts a Horticulture University) with rampant open defecation caused by its own inhabitants and migrant population, saw a rapid transformation once the CLTS approach was implemented. Baldev Singh Thakur, the Pradhan of the Nauni GP who took the lead in his panchayat implementing the CLTS approach in a mission mode, reminscises while speaking to this author: “We went through a training at the district level organised by the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh where we first met Dr. Kamal Kar. Dr. Kar was the trainer in that workshop. That led to the spark amongst us and we realised that the key to tackle open defecation is not through the upfront subsidy by the government but by convincing villagers to change their behaviour and doing it themeselves. We started the approach from May 2005 and in a period of about three to four months – we could effectively transform the entire 9 villages in Nauni Panchayat into ODF status. Our GP was then declared the first ODF panchayat in the state of Himachal Pradesh.”

Mr. Thakur recollects: “The workshop by Dr. Kar was really inspirational. We later underwent one more training in Nainital organised by Dr. Kar, Water Aid and WSP programme. Later on we went on to receive several recognitions such as the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh’s Maharishi Valmiki Sampurna Swastha Puruskar and the Govt. of India’s Nirmal Gram Puruskar under Total Sanitation Campaign.”

Bhavna Sharma was the Block Development Office of Solan in 2005-06. Speaking to this author sitting in her current office at the Deputy Commissioner’s building in Shimla, she said: “We used to move in teams in areas where there was lesser coverage of toilets. We didn’t get much support from the District team. However, a lot of support and motivation came from the state. We involved school children in IEC campaigns. Mahila Mandals were very active in triggering the community. Through CLTS, we could instill a sense of pride, not being guilty, a sense of dignity, ownership amongst the community. We didn’t give any assurance of subsidy to the villagers. Schools presented Best Cleanliness Awards to their students. It took us one month to transform Sheel village into ODF.”

The previous Project Officer of DRDO at Mandi district, Govt. of Himachal, Mr. Ravinder Nath Sharma (who is currently the MD of Agricultural and Rural Development Bank, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh) says: “CLTS was introduced in the state in 2006-06 when Dr. Kar came for a workshop in Solan. The workshop was attended by all the Project Officers and Block Development Officers. Dr. Kar later organised a workshop in Shimla – the capital of the state. We worked a lot in several districts including Sirmour District. Another critical factor for the success of the approach was the work of a support organisation called Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti (HGVS). We implemented the approach as a movement with a lot of thrust on IEC campaigns. We created a pool of 40-50 trainers and local natural leaders and champions in all the 6 Blocks. Lot of awareness and triggering interspresed with street theatres was done to take the message to the community. Later on we did a 5-day workshop at Sirmour district facilitated by WSP and Knowledge Links.”


Robin George was the State Coordinator or Govt. of India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) during that period. Mr. George while sitting at his office in Kasumpti, Shimla spoke to this author about the success of those days: “One of the critial factors for the success of CLTS was that not only the villagers and communities, but the officials and bureaucracy accepted the approach. Initial triggering was done in Mandi district which was later replicated in Bilaspur district. Post – triggering, there was a Support Organisation – HGVS – to do the continuous follow-up. We involved the Line Departments and introduced them to the concept of CLTS.”

Mr. George observes: “Himachal maintained the momentum from 2005-2011. By 2011-12, the state surpassed the state target of providing access to sanitation and toilet coverage as per TSC. There weren’t any new households without toilets. But now, there are new households particularly in the industrial belt of Baddi which is a cause for concern. Additionally, a whole lot of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRIs) went out of power and in their place a new bunch of PRIs have come. They were not privy to the concept of CLTS. The WSP support also got curtailed after 2011-12 which gave a slight blow to the momentum.”

What next?

On being asked about the GP’s current focus, Mr. Thakur said: “Today our GP has been radically transformed but we are gradually moving into a post-ODF sustainability phase. We are tackling Solid Waste Management (SWM) and also segregating organic and inorganic waste collected from our households. Creating environmental awareness amongst tourists is critical in order to sustain the momemtum.”

Mr. Jharta, consultant, Sanitation cell, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh said: “We are playing radio jingles on AIR FM on two three different issues daily. We would be doing this for about a year.”

Ms. Sharma said: “The challenge now is managing the waste. This year we introduced Bio-Toilets in and around Shimla district. We introduced 1 Bio-Toilet per Block. We have initiated training of women masons in Chaupal Block of Shimla district. As of now, we are focusing on households which were notified as per the Baseline Survey of 2012. However, there’s a lot to do. Work has to be done on a mission mode.”


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