Till January this year, Shanti Sahu, 55, was defecating next to a road connecting Kumurisinga gram panchayat to the rest of the district. She and other women would wake up before the village did or wait until dark to perform her ablutions. Sneaking out at odd hours was more perilous than the ills of defecating in the open. The women found it difficult to go out during the rains. Headlights of passing vehicles and frequent encounters with snakes and scorpions were other concerns.
"I am happy getting a toilet in my house," Sahu says, seated outside her thatched hut in Kumurisinga village. Her house has no power connection, but she proudly points to a newly-constructed latrine in her courtyard. Sahu and 5,500 villagers are using these sky blue-coloured toilets, connected to three-feet leach pits.
"I would go and cover their faeces," says Jyotirmayee Dehury, the 25-year-old head of Sankhapur village. Dehury told villagers she did not want to fall ill. Her act moved the villagers and now their practice of using a toilet and washing hands after defecation has earned Kumurisinga the title of the first "open defecation free" (ODF) gram panchayat in Odisha.
Around 160 villages have been declared ODF in Angul within four months of the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2. Each household has been provided a toilet. Angul is one of the best performing districts in Odisha, and other districts have been asked to follow its community-led total sanitation (CLTS) model.
Pictures and coordinates of 7,594 toilets in the district have been uploaded on the portal of the ministry of drinking water and sanitation. The information serves as proof of construction of the toilets. Based on this data, the Centre releases Rs 9,000 (the state contributes another Rs 3,000) as cost for each toilet. Officials say the number of toilets built is higher; the process of uploading is slow.
So far 148,948 pictures of toilets have been uploaded on the portal. The maximum was from West Bengal (45,001), Odisha (39,578) and Assam (20,675). The 2011 census report suggests 69.3 per cent of India's rural population does not have toilets. Jharkhand tops the list with 92.4 per cent of the rural population, followed by Madhya Pradesh (86.9 per cent), Odisha (85.9 per cent), Chhattisgarh (85.5 per cent) and Bihar (82.4 per cent).
Reports suggest inadequate sanitation costs the national exchequer Rs 2.4 trillion a year, equivalent to 2.1 per cent of India's GDP in 2013-14. India needs to build at least 100 million toilets to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi's target of making the entire country ODF by 2019.
"Prime Minister Modi's plan to make India open defecation free by 2019 is likely to fail, because it concentrates on building toilets, not on convincing people to use them. People continue to defecate in the open despite owning a toilet because of worries about latrine pits filling up, and because they think that defecating in the open is healthier," says Aashish Gupta, a research fellow at RICE (research institute for compassionate economics).
Insiders say the model is failing because of a lack of interest by the state machinery responsible for implementing the scheme. Opposition-ruled states are unenthusiastic for political reasons and non-profit organisations are getting into the business of building latrines. What worked for the best-performing districts like Angul was the involvement of district collectors and non-profit organisations.
"These district collectors understood that it was not just about building toilets, but changing the behaviour of the people. Otherwise the entire exercise will fail," says Ajay Sinha, chief operating officer of Feedback Foundation, which operates in 10 states on sanitation issues.
"We held community meetings in three districts. Jharsuguda and Nawapara failed, but Angul performed exceptionally well because of the involvement of its district collector Sachin Jadhav. We have pulled out of the other two districts and are increasing our presence in Angul," Sinha adds.
Jadhav was initially sceptical of the CLTS approach, but was convinced after he observed the working of the UNICEF, which took only a few months to make villages ODF. Jadhav replicated the model in Angul. While Feedback Foundation mobilised the masses, Jadhav's team provided technical support.
"We contaminated a water bottle by putting one hair spiked with faeces. Villagers were offered the water to drink, which they obviously refused. We explained that a fly has six-seven legs the size of hair. The fly sits on excreta and then on their food and water. The villagers understood," says Lakhvinder Singh, a ground worker for Feedback Foundation in Angul.
The villagers pledged to cover their faeces with soil till the time toilets were built for each household. Each village constituted its procurement committee, which bargained with dealers for cheap construction material for the latrines. The committee appointed masons and toilets were ready within four months. The district administration assisted them with timely payment for supplies and technical support.
"We didn't interfere in procurement and construction. This gave villagers a sense of empowerment," says Jadhav, who frequents these villages for reviews.