Swachh Bharat campaign in rural India gets a makeover

The Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation is bringing in a host of “out-of-box” ideas to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Swachh Bharat campaign a reboot in rural areas. The ministry, which is led by Chaudhary Birender Singh, realised that the usual run-of-the-mill approach won’t work if rural India has to meet the 2019 target set by Modi to become open defecation free (ODF). Since 2014, when the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was launched, around one crore toilets have been built in rural areas as against the target of 12 crore by 2019.
From organising monthly “chai pe charcha” of collectors of better performing districts with rural development minister to holding virtual classrooms for villagers and community workers to motivate them to start using toilets, the ministry is trying to give a boost to the programme.
In a first, the ministry is selecting “champion collectors” – who are ahead of others in meeting target – from 116 districts in rural India which have to become ODF by March 2017. “In the chai pe charcha with the Union RD minister and the collector meet and share their experience and challenges they are facing in implementing the program. Initiatives like this go a long way in motivating the collector of far-flung districts who rarely gets an opportunity to interact with Union ministers,” Parmeshwaram Iyer, secretary of drinking water and sanitation, said.
The second such tea-meeting with the minister happened on Wednesday.
Iyer said that in the last three-four months there has been a shift in focus of the campaign. “From the earlier emphasis on only building toilets, we are now trying to move towards bringing behavioural change among the people to use toilets. There has been a realisation that not enough emphasis was being put on usage,” he said. Brought in from World Bank by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a fixed two-year contract to head the cleanliness campaign in rural India, Iyer has also set targets for himself.
He has a dashboard in office in which he has written three figures that he updates every day – number of days he has been in the job, days left, and how many villages are left to become ODF.
“I update the figures every day to remind myself the target and challenge in hand. This keeps me on my toes all the time,” he said.
Iyer concedes that unlike countries like Vietnam where he had worked in sanitation projects of World Bank, in India the challenges are different.
“To start with the scale here is huge. But the good thing is that this time around with the PM directly involved, the political will is there to make the program a success,” he said.
The ministry has also started holding virtual classes for community workers and villagers where they are told about the benefits of using toilets.
“We have roped in master trainers who take these classes. We have also started bringing international experts to interact with officials and give ideas to improve the program,” an official said.
Besides, villages and states which meet the target will also be given monetary incentives. “The incentive scheme is aimed at fostering competition among states to do well,” he added.

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