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Poop & Earn: How Villages around Raipur Are Making Money by Going Open Defecation Free

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“Hum tumko maar denge – We will kill you,” were the words that Mehataru Sahu, the Sarpanch of Ilda village, heard when he tried to convince the villagers that they should build toilets in their houses.

Mehataru’s response was resolute, “Kill me if you want, but do that after you build a toilet in your house.”

An equally resolute Raipur Jila Panchayat administration, Chattisgarh, which steers the activities towards making rural Raipur Open Defecation Free (ODF), made some strong and unconventional interventions too. They went to the village, collected human faeces from the open and placed it right in the middle of the village gathering! The villagers turned livid. But the team had an answer, “If you are fine with excreta lying out in the open in the village, why not here?” The villagers said it was foul and unhygienic. “Exactly,” came the response from the team, which steered discussions towards how the human excreta is returning to their body through air, water and food.

But there were many rebels who insisted that it was their right to defecate in the open. They found a strong alibi in the question “who will fund the building of the toilets?” This was indeed a tough barrier.

The Jila Panchayat and the Sarpanch said that they will not provide any upfront subsidy – the villagers have to shell out their own money! They insisted that the government grant will be given away only after the toilets are built, and not just built but used by the villagers. The grant of Rs 12,000 would be given to them after three months of toilet construction and after a verification process to ensure that the toilets are indeed being used. This was a rather unusual stand because, across the country, the government either constructs toilets or gives away money to build toilets. The rebels rejoiced. They foresaw a massive failure of this project.

But they quite underestimated the power of the ODF brigade. Little did they imagine that when they would take the ‘lota’ (mug) and walk into the fields at four o’clock in the morning, they would find the ODF brigade waiting to drive them away!

This morning vigilance brigade included several volunteers, including women and children. One day, when the CEO of Raipur Jila Panchayat Nilesh Kshirsagar, IAS, went to oversee the morning vigilance activity, he was stunned to see 400 villagers gathered to dissuade open defecation. Remember, it was 4 am!

The resistance of the rebels started failing. The women of the village started insisting that they need toilets in their houses. The villagers got together and financially supported the families that were too poor to build their own toilets. One by one, the houses started building their toilets, humble, yet functional.

“The villagers are using the toilets because they spent their hard-earned money to build them. We could just give money away or ask the Sarpanch to build toilets, but we wanted to ensure that the toilets are used. Earlier, when the administration was building toilets for the villagers, we found ourselves staring at failure. The villagers never used them. They complained about the toilets that someone else built for them. That’s when we decided that we will reverse the tables. The government will not build toilets, people will. This drastic change in our approach and the method of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) have helped us achieve the difficult task of behavioral change,” says Nilesh Kshirsagar, the architect behind the ODF mission in the region.

Ilda was declared open defecation free, in its true sense, in just three months. Idla is also the first village where villagers spent money from their own pockets to build toilets. The Ilda model of ODF mission is now being replicated across rural Raipur. As many as 263 Gram Panchayats have become open defecation free.

There are 90,000 such houses in rural Raipur. Janaki Varma, the Sarpanch of Sarfonga village, says, “We have been extremely vigilant in ensuring that no villager defecates in the open. I can say with full confidence that you will not be able to find human excreta in the open in our village”.

All toilets in the villages are constructed with an adjoining leach pit. Within a period of six months, the leach pit converts human waste into manure that is as good as any other organic manure. Sona Khad does not have any foul smell and is a rich manure. But there is a lot of mental block in using it.

Raipur Jila Panchayat officials frequently organise leach-emptying activities to spread the word that excreta is indeed gold. The administration has decided to use the manure for all the plantation activities in Raipur. The villagers who have realised the value of Sona Khad are packaging and selling it, completing a full circle of recycling. That’s coming a long way – from defecating in the open and jeopardising their health to living in sanitation to gaining returns from selling human excreta!

You can reach Nilesh Kshirsagar, CEO Jila Panchayat Raipur, at nmk.ksagar@gmail.com

This article by Ranjini Sivaswamy originally appeared on The Better India website on 8th June 2017.

Date: 10 June 2017