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As DM of Badaun, Amit Gupta spearheaded a campaign against manual scavenging by replacing dry latrines with pour-flush toilets, winning the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration in 2011. With the Swachh Bharat Mission commencing, he shares his grass roots experiences in sanitation schemes with Jiby J Kattakayam.
With open defecation and manual scavenging persisting, how can a nationwide sanitation scheme be made sustainable?
Open defecation and manual scavenging are different issues. Our primary focus in Badaun was on the latter. Our work was sustainable because it was tackled from both ends: dry toilets were converted and manual scavengers were rehabilitated. By building toilets in manual scavengers’ home and training them as masons, we made them active participants. We addressed around 500 meetings to create awareness. The Valmikis badly wanted to get out of this tradition and those who have quit tell me that they will not return. Open defecation, on the other hand, also involves a behavioural aspect as a household with a toilet might still use it as a storeroom and opt for open defecation. Alongside funding and targets, what is more important in a sanitation drive is motivating stakeholders. We also found audio-visual techniques like posters and street plays effective.
Are caste practices aiding the persistence of manual scavenging?
Earlier, the manual scavengers were under pressure from the influential groups in villages who were using dry toilets. When these people shifted to pour-flush toilets, the social pressure on the Valmikis eased. They now realise that the discrimination they faced earlier was partly because of the nature of their work. Now, erstwhile scavenging households are taking up various agriculture-related or MGNREGA works which other villagers do. They have reported back to our field staff that their social status has risen after dissociating from the scavenging work. But for effective rehabilitation, a multi-pronged approach involving BPL and MGNREGA job cards, access to PDS, health, housing, skill development and social security schemes, and school enrolment is necessary.
Earlier schemes had poor allocations for building toilets and none for maintenance. How should funding be structured?
Low-cost toilet models should be popularised, which we did. Our priority was to convert as many dry toilets as possible, and, frankly, the problem of maintenance and toilet seats’ breaking was not realised. But there could be provisions of maintenance after a specified period for the poor. What many people forget is that a lot can be achieved with little effort. If we target the comparatively well-off people in villages and motivate them to construct toilets with their own money, the lower income groups are more likely to follow suit. I am a firm believer in persuading the upper strata to invest their own financial resources in constructing toilets. We persuaded lower-tier public servants, ASHA, rozgar sevaks, para teachers and anganwadi workers, who are the more educated ones and wield much influence in villages, to build toilets in their homes. This strategy has worked well as they persuade others to do the same. This frees up public funding for building toilets for the poor.
Gupta is now special secretary to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal.