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WHY OPEN DEFECATION IS STILL PREVALENT: VOICES FROM RURAL ODISHA

Updated: Dec 19, 2018

There are mosquitoes outside. It is more difficult in rains. It is dirty too. It is even more painful to go outside in nights and especially when we are infected with diarrhea.

Anuradha De

During our interaction with community researchers and respondents in a multi-site study in rural Odisha (Ganjam, Khandhamal, Raygada, Nayagarh) in the summer of 2016 many shared the trouble they face in accessing a secluded and secure space for defecation and the exposure to dirt and filth. Many of the respondents still did not have access to a functioning toilet.


On October 2, 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) was launched in India. One of its main objectives was to render India free from open defecation by 2019. State level data from National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4 suggests that Odisha is among those states in India which is lagging behind. Though the state had actively participated in the several centrally sponsored sanitation programmes, the Total Sanitation Campaign implemented from 1999 and its later avatar in the form of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan from 2012, only 23% of Odisha’s rural households had access to “improved” sanitation facilities in 2014.Providing toilets for all households in rural areas have evidently been a challenge for the state government.


However the situation is not without promise: the years of sanitation campaigns have generated awareness among the villagers. Most of the women respondents recognized the need for a toilet for personal use, and a large majority of them had either engaged with the process of construction of a toilet or had actively considered doing so. Those with a usable toilet at home had constructed it in recent years, often with assistance from government schemes and NGO support.


The discussions provided important insights to the reasons why, in spite of the demand for toilets, and the commitment from central and state governments to support the construction, the majority continue to defecate in the open. It is definitely not out of choice. For some, the reason lies in not being familiar with the process of identification of beneficiaries. The eligibility conditions are not clear to them. “People are telling us that it requires a record of rights of the homestead land and ration card for getting help under the latrine scheme.

The construction process is such that delays are in-built in it. Both under the earlier scheme as the current one, the beneficiary households are required to take the initiative. They are expected to contribute to the construction of toilets in cash or in kind. The Swachh Bharat norms in Odisha require the beneficiary to pay Rs. 1000/ while the major share is met by the state and Central governments (a maximum of 12000/).


Two types of problems arise from this. The first is that the beneficiaries are expected to pay their share upfront. Poor households found that a problem. “We are poor people. Whatever we earn, is spent on our food. How can we construct a latrine?” Similar comments were heard from several families.


The other problem arises from the fact that such a collaborative venture requires coordination among the stakeholders. Money, materials and labour, all three are required for completing the construction. Village Water and Sanitation Committees are set up for this purpose. But the discussions with respondents suggest that this coordination was missing and the process has not been smooth. Several respondents said that their toilet construction took 2 to 3 years to complete.


In many cases the beneficiary households said that they had to advance the entire expenditure and not just Rs. 1000/. The government share was released only after the construction was completed. And there were several cases where the state shares were yet to be released even though the toilet construction was complete. Theseexperiences have an adverse impact on the willingness to participate in the scheme. “What shall we do with the toilet scheme? Money is not paid (to the beneficiary) even a year after receiving the work-order for the same.”- said one respondent.


Many respondents said their toilets remain half-complete because of the same reason. They had been able to arrange for some cash and materials and a part was done. But either they were waiting for a skilled mason, or to arrange bricks to complete the construction. They had not received funds from the government and neither had been able to tap alternate sources. “I felt the need of a latrine. Government will give money but after completion of the latrine. I purchased construction materials for the latrine out of my hard earned money, but I could not complete the same.


The practice in some areas of involving a local NGO and SHGs provided more positive results. An interesting feature of this process was that decisions to construct toilets were taken not individually but as a group of households. The NGO got together a cluster of households and facilitated the discussions regarding their decision to construct a toilet, and continued to support and coordinate their work. So rather than each having the responsibility for providing all inputs for their toilets, they could share it –for example in one case bricks for all the toilets were the responsibility of a few people who had the required skill, while the mason was jointly hired for the construction. The NGO provided additional assistance in the form of loans in certain cases.


Even in these villages the process was not always smooth. But as groups rather than individuals were involved, there was an opportunity for the potential beneficiaries to discuss these issues. There was an interesting gender dimension in these discussions. The women were keen to have toilets and in many cases voiced their need. In general, the men agreed. But as men took the financial decisions their opinion carried more weight, and there were some cases where the men were not willing to commit to paying their share. “We decided to save Rs1000/- per head in the meeting but while some people agreed with this, others didn’t. Women showed their interest and suggested borrowing but men were not (keen). Then the idea of constructing latrines had to stop.” A rare example was provided by one confident woman who was able to provide the necessary advance. “My husband didn’t listen to anything. I worked for wages, deposited the money and had the toilet built. I gave the money with a lot of difficulty. He did not. Now he shamelessly bathes in this water after he returns from drinking.


This is however a part of the story. Another part is that many households were not able to use the toilets even though they had one. There was no source of water nearby. The programme commitment is to ensure a regular supply of piped water to the toilets when a cluster of households have constructed them. This interdepartmental coordination was missing in several villages. Respondents of one village said they had piped water, but only in the morning. But the experiences of other villages were different. In areas where alternate water sources like open well or tube well was easy to access, the households could use the toilets. But water scarcity was acute in several villages, particularly in summer. Piped water and functional tube wells were few in number. The respondents had to depend largely on open wells, Chuan (dug on dry river beds), springs or ponds, often located at a distance. So the women had to fetch water from a distance for their daily use, and were unwilling to do so for bathing and defacation as well.


The sanitation programmes have generated a demand for toilets in Odisha. But the poor are dependent on government support to build one and to provide a regular supply of piped water. It was seen that budgetary provision by itself did not serve its purpose. The funds need to be released in a coordinated way to ensure that the beneficiaries are not stuck midway and the toilets are constructed in a limited time. Effective involvement of community based organization or local NGOs may facilitate the process. In addition, the districts which suffer from water scarcity in summer need more active involvement of the concerned department. Unless the activities of the departments responsible for water and sanitation are better coordinated, making rural Odisha free from open defecation will remain a distant dream.

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