A bureaucrat’s efforts towards Swacch Bharat by using CLTS as a weapon

The District Magistrate of Murshidabad (West Bengal) Dr. P. Ulaganathan,IAS is spearheading the efforts to create an ODF Murshidabad (West Bengal). With his experience as erstwhile District Magistrate of Cooch Behar (West Bengal); an in-depth knowledge of Community Led Total Sanitation, he has managed to create one success story after another. Here he shares some of his challenges and learnings.

Challenges for a District Magistrate increase when there exists a dichotomy in policies and the ground reality. It gets even tougher when one decides to overlook set rules to achieve sustainable results. I went through a comparable situation while implementing Sanitation Scheme in Cooch Behar which happens to be one of the backward districts of West Bengal, India. First thing I realized was that poor sanitation is not an individual issue but a collective community behavioural syndrome. Subsidizing toilets did not seem a solution in this situation but facilitating communities for building and using toilets on a mass scale could create a ripple. Once the community was triggered, it was no more interested in individual benefits but demanded community incentives for the betterment of their villages.

 Ironically, the sanitation policy neither focusses on collective behavioural change or community incentive. Consequently, I had to face a tough challenge while planning sustainable Open Defecation Free communities in the district. I decided to follow the right principles of Community mobilization for achieving sustainable ODF without giving much importance to policy issues.

Initiating my drive from the grass root, at the grass root, for the grass root was my motto. I travelled to nooks and corners of the district tagging my entire fleet of local officers, designed area-wise campaigns and programs to trigger the communities. Surprisingly, the poorest and illiterate were the first to embrace the concept and nodded to build their own toilets thereby changing the collective behaviour of the villagers. Though initially villagers were given subsidies to build a toilet, later the community took over and converted it to a larger public movement against Open Defecation. The youth, women, self-help groups, teachers, doctors, local political leaders, banks stepped forward to assist communities to attain open defecation free status. Sanitary marts turned into suppliers from builders of toilets.

With several welfare schemes Fund under my disposal, I made provision for diverting it to ODF villages for providing them community incentives in the form of rural roads, water supply, health centres, schools, street lights etc. I also converted the individual subsidy under sanitation fund into a community incentive by convincing the department. It acted as a reward for the villagers’ efforts and reaffirmed their resolve to upkeep the ODF status. Today, Cooch Behar is a proud Open Defecation Free district, conceived and owned by the people of the district.

Myths and Realities:

Myth:    Poor people need financial support to build their toilet

Reality: Poor people are the first to spend their resources for sanitation

Myth:   Training of volunteers and Triggering of community will lead to community mobilization

Reality: Training and triggering are just the beginning. Working closely with the community and rigorously following them can only lead to community mobilization towards sustainable ODF.

Myth:   People prefer individual benefit.

Reality: Villagers are not interested in individual benefit, it is only the community incentive matters for sanitation.

Glimpses of his achievements in Murshidabad

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