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Sreelatha Menon: Sanitation guru

Kamal Kar's 'community-led total sanitation' is the new mantra for a global toilet revolution

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Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has been banging his head on the wall in frustration over poor progress in the ministry’s efforts to make India open-defecation-free (). He recently spent two days in Finland, idea shopping for eco-friendly toilets. He coaxed the government into increasing allocations for water and by 40 per cent in the Budget.

He even revamped the sanitation programme by increasing subsidies for free toilets threefold, from Rs 3,000.

But, a development activist from , , has been making entire communities shun open defecation without spending a penny in everywhere, mostly outside India without the Indian government taking notice. This is despite the fact that he manages to drive entire communities to demand toilets and to find innovative ways to build toilets on their own, without waiting for subsidies. The first time he did a pilot of this approach was in Kalyani, a municipality near his home town.

His method is driven by common sense and a faith in people, rather than a top-down approach. He gathers people for a village mapping exercise. People place pieces of paper where their homes are situated in the village map. Then each villager gets to mark the areas where they defecate with turmeric. Then they place markings on areas where their food grows. It agitates people to realise how neighbours are defecating near their homes and that faeces are getting mixed with their food and water.

Community leaders, mostly youth and even children, as in Indonesia, are identified, who then repeat these exercises in the village till the entire community is wired up with a sense of shame and fear.

In Kalyani, 800 households in 10 slums were ODF in five months.

And with no subsidy. People have made their own toilets with jute baskets or plastic buckets lining the pits with jute covers.

If Bangladesh has shown rapid progress towards ending open defecation, it is because the country has, under a project by NGO Water Aid, taken a leaf out from the Kalyani pilot. Maharashtra, which adopted Kamal Kar’s ‘community-led total sanitation’ () approach, is the only state today which is on the verge of being ODF. Himachal Pradesh is another state that has adopted the CLTS approach and is also on its way to being ODF.

Speaking from an unknown village in Madagascar, all he says is India is a lost case. A specialist in agriculture and livestock, he has in the past innovated low-cost farming techniques before developing CLTS, while evaluating a water and sanitation project in Bangladesh. His approach has since been adopted by agencies like the World Bank and UN bodies.

Asked if the government of India did not know of this zero subsidy demand-driven method, he says Jairam Ramesh must be knowing about CLTS. Kar is upset with the subsidy-driven approach. “"It is so unfortunate that our great country is heading towards disaster. With so much of subsidy money on sanitation, god knows where we will land up," he messages from Madagascar in Africa where the CLTS drive is on. It is already converting communities in east Asia, West Asia, Africa and Latin America. The approach is now being tried in China, too, by the Water and Sanitation Programme, which alongwith Unicef, CARE and Plan International and many global NGOs, has been taking it to almost 40 countries.

India, which according to Kar, releases 144,000 truckloads into the open daily and where 42 kids die hourly of diarrhoea, despite crores spend on toilets for decades, people empowerment through CLTS may provide answers.

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