Patna workshop advocates for more local ownership of ODF initiative
The workshop deliberated to strengthen the state guidelines for ODF verification.
Patna: The sustainability of the Open Defecation Free (ODF) initiative can be ensured only if it becomes a people’s programme with proactive help by local bodies like Gram Panchayats (GPs), said Sunil Ray, Director of Patna-based A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies (ANSISS). Ray was speaking at a two-day state-level workshop, ‘Consultation Workshop for Development of ODF-GP Verification Mechanism for the State of Bihar’ organised by the Bihar Technical Assistance Support Team (BTAST).
Based on the Government of India’s (GoI) guidelines for ODF verification, Bihar’s Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED) has prepared draft guidelines to suit local requirements. The draft guidelines have evoked a positive response from the people and agencies who have been campaigning in rural areas of Bihar to convert it into an ODF state.
BTAST recognized the need for having a discourse on the draft state guidelines for ODF verification by inviting opinions from both the grassroots and the specialists working with government agencies. The workshop helped achieve consensus among stakeholders, including the government and development organisations on how Gram Panchayats should be assessed.
Welcoming the support offered by ANSISS, Dr Prabhakar Sinha, Director of WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) at BTAST, said that ANSISS could play the role of a Key Resource Centre (KRC) in the state for implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Dr Sinha pointed out that unlike other states, Bihar lacks a KRC of its own.
The participants discussed the process and certification of declaring a Gram Panchayat (GP) as ODF. The success of SBM depends on the Gram Panchayat as it is the smallest unit in the cleanliness drive by the Indian government. The government representatives acknowledged the pioneering role to be played by institutions like GPs and local NGOs in making India free of open defecation.
Sharing his views on firming up the state guidelines on ODF verification, Ashok Kumar, Executive Engineer, PHED, said that voices from rural areas routed through the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) or SBM-G coordinators would provide the much needed information for strengthening these guidelines.
MS Jawaid, Executive Engineer, PHED, and Director, Programme Management Unit, Swachch Bharat Mission, Bihar, said that the focus for ODF verification would be on the wards which are the basic components of a GP. Referring to Nirmal Gram Puraskar, he said: “We are working at the ward level and at the level of GP. Earlier, the GPs would claim to be Nirmal with only 20 per cent availability of toilets. The situation has changed now and the GPs are being more responsible before declaring themselves as ODF.”
Saying that the process adopted at the ward level for verification should be thorough because the Panchayat’s decision is dependent on them, Jawaid added that frontline workers like Accredited Social Health Worker (ASHAs) and Anganwadi Workers (AWWs), could play a big role in the entire process.
Rajaya Nand Bar, Assistant Director, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), impressed upon the need for gaining the confidence of villagers during the verification process. “Villagers are suspicious of government officers. Once they gain confidence from the team, a good response is ensured,” he said.
Dr Sinha of BTAST also called on the participants to think of ways to make the process more practical. “We need to ascertain the number of steps required for ODF verification. We need to see the need of doing it at the village, block or district level. We need to see how efficiently a committee can be formed,” he said.
The participants also deliberated on how to overcome the shortcomings in the state guidelines for ODF verification. There was unanimity that public utilities like AWCs and schools should have toilets and water facilities should be provided for making a Panchayat truly ODF along with individual households.