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Oh Sarpanch of Dudha, you helped determine the national policy

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The budget announcement of 2016 included this – ‘In order to continue this (Swachh Bharat) momentum, priority allocation from Centrally Sponsored Schemes will be made to reward villages that have become free from open defecation’.

This was a very special moment. It brought back memories of 10 years ago, when I was working in Jalna district in Total Sanitation campaign. One day, I visited one of the early (open defecation free) ODF villages in that district, Dudha in Mantha taluka of Jalna. The picture of Dudha sarpanch is clear before me. A short heighted person, little stout, with a Gandhi topi, and with a heart of a champion, a natural leader, a public-spirited person, who had taken lead in and persuaded his entire village to become ODF. After he had shown me his village, he mentioned that water in his well had almost dried, and people were feeling water scarcity. With folded hands, and moist eyes, but a smiling face, he requested me if a well could be sanctioned for his village. I got a jolt of kinds! Here was a man, a person who should be worshipped, a person, who keeping the public good first, did something that was very rare in those days, and pulled his village out of misery of centuries. And he had still to ask for something, again not for himself, but for his village. I felt he deserved it as a right, much more than anyone else, and we sanctioned him a water supply scheme then and there. Here is how I documented the incident 10 years ago in my book ‘Beyond sanitation’,  an incident that was to become an important learning for me in my early years :

“Dudha is a small village in Mantha Block, which had the prestige of being first in the district in Sant Gadge Baba Abhiyaa. When we visited the village, we found a tremendous zeal in Murli, sarpanch, to make his village developed. There was also a very positive environment in the village …no factions, no false complaints. The village was in dire need of a well. Most schemes go to villages which are not necessarily the ones needing them the most; and certainly not the ones who would implement them in the most efficient and transparent way. Dudha made us realise that there was a need for ‘positive incentivisation’ for such villages. Our Zilla Parishad passed a resolution to consider ODF villages on priority while selection for various developmental programmes. It works like this. In ODF villages, the positive energies of people are unleashed and they are capable of implementing all other development programmes in a much more transparent and efficient way. The best thing is that everyone in the village begins to think about the village as their own, and hence the best chance for success arises. The interdependence thus begins to be developed not only within the village but also between the villages on the one side and Government on the other. It is not ‘You do it (for us), we shall give you …’ philosophy but ‘because you have done this, you need to be appreciated’ philosophy. There is a thin but a definite difference between the two. It is a win-win situation.”

As I learn more about the community processes, I realised that the most ‘purist’ community and participative process is where one does not link it to any extrinsic ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’. Programatically however, there was a definite need to encourage the ‘good’.  As the programme was upscaled in Maharashtra, due recognition of grass root champions began to  decrease. There was a feedback from sarpanches of some districts that while they took so much effort for their villages, there was not even ‘a pat on the back’. Therefore, the logic to institutionalise positive incentivisation, especially if work is to be done on scale gained strength.

In South Korea, we learnt about the Saemaul Undong, the new village movement. Sameaul Undong, meaning New Village Movement, is an approach adopted by South Korea in 1970s to involve the rural community in their own development.  It is based on the three principles of diligence, self-help and cooperation.   In this programme, the government identified community leaders with voluntary spirit and gave them basic training in leadership.  These leaders then identified certain projects for their community, for which the Government provided basic support in the form of materials.  In the process, the communities not only became self-reliant, but also learnt to plan and implement holistic developmental programmes on their own. Saemaul Undong, in a way was about positive incentivisation. The philosophy was  “ Why should we give street lights to a village, if the villagers were to sit beneath them and drink, and even break them !” But if the community took one step, Government would respond with nine steps.

With this basic conviction, when I joined Swachh Bhart, I mooted this idea. The conviction was strengthed by winessing that champion Collectors in many States were already linking up other small schemes – a watershed work, a community toilet, cleaning up pond, a water supply scheme – in ODF villages and responding more favourably to demands of such villages. These demands, such as request for a teacher in the village school,  small from administration’s point of view (in its coldness and vastness) can be very critical for the village. And the Collector/CEO, Zilla Panchayat are usually in a position to address those (thankfully), despite the ‘guidelines’ for each scheme. The idea was picked up well, and our Minister wrote to Chief Ministers of all the States, appealing to them to prioritise other development schemes in ODF villages. Our Minister also wrote to all the Central Ministries concerned to prioritise their schemes in ODF villages.  When it comes to linking schemes of health, or child development, this linkage has greater logic. Shri Agnihorti, Retd Secretary and nutrition expert, calls the battle of malnutrition a cricket match in which you need all factors right. If one addresses few factors – good supplementary nutrition, health check up, but leaves the rest – poor sanitation and open defecation, the match cannot be won.

This is the kind of convergence that is required. Let each Ministry/Department do more of what they are doing – whether it is roads, or water supply, or housing or water conservation, or agriculture extension – in villages that are showing the courage and success to think together as a community, and work together to shed off a century old practice. It will certainly help the other Departments as well, since these villages will implement those schemes much better. And it will also encourage more and more villages to become ODF. Let this positive discrimination roll out !

Of course, caution has to be that one does not trigger a village to become ODF since they will get a road! A village has to become ODF for the sake of their own health.  Another caution is that the more deserving ones of those schemes do not lose out. But we are only talking of prioritization, which means first amongst the equally deserving. The enabling environment has to be such that rewards the performers.

Thanks Murli!

Date: 31 March 2016