Manual Scavenging to be flushed away from UP

Honey combed shaped pits 
sustain pour flush toilets for yrs
Badaun: He is on a mission, one that few would like to take on, but then Amit Gupta, District Magistrate, Badaun a small district in western Uttar Pradesh seems to enjoy challenges. And the latest one he has taken on since July 2010 is unmatched by any that he has tackled so far. Intrigued? Then read on. Read more

In a unique drive launched by Gupta in Badaun, conversion of no less than 60,000 dry latrines to pour flush ones in the entire district is on these days.

But that's not all, in turn the drive is also ensuring rehabilitation of manual scavengers most of whom are women and young girls by freeing them of the demeaning work they have been forced to do for centuries to survive.

DPRO of Badaun, RS Chowdhary
sensitising villagers to take up
conversion of dry toilets
As unconventional as that may sound the idea behind it was inspired by a 'feeling of service to those who live a life of misery' say the DM's team who is also engaged in making sure that the target of converting the huge number of toilets is achieved within six months.

Says Gupta, "It sounds unbelievable that manual scavenging still exits in the 21 century. When I took on as the DM here I could not imagine that women and young girls were sustaining themselves by cleaning human excreta just because people were using dry latrines even now. But what shocked me most was that the houses where these dry toilets existed allowed the feaces to lie in the homes for days together right next to the kitchen. Apart from the unbearable stench it was causing number of dangerous diseases and helping viruses including the polio virus to thrive. And all this was happening despite a government order issued way back in 2002 which clearly states that as per Subsection (1) of section (3) of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition ) Act 1993 no person will engage in or employ manually to carry human excreta or construct or maintain dry latrine within the whole area of Uttar Pardesh. So things had to be changed and fast."

A man of his word Gupta began planning the campaign under the Total Sanitation Campaign mooted by the Ministry of Rural Development and implemented by Panchayati Raj Department in the state. And he brought in masterminds like RS Chowdhary to spearhead the conversion drive.

A well known officer Chowdhary was famous for his successful efforts to convert dry latrines to pour flush ones at Shahpur Jot which fetched the village the President’s Award in 2006.

So he took on as District Panchayat Raj Officer in Badaun in December 2009 and began a survey of the villages and blocs to identify the ones which had the largest number of dry latrines.

"Initially I thought the situation would not be so bad. I expected no more than 80-90 dry latrines in each village, but I was stunned to see that numbers ranged from 900-1200 even in communities where the population was between just 2000 to 3400 as well. So it was clear that the conversion was going to be a huge exercise both effort wise and financially," recalls the DPRO Badaun.

Nevertheless the district administration decided to start the work of building the toilets and providing grants to the villagers who were ready to convert to pour flush latrines.

Surveys were done again and those villages which were classified as the most high risk group as per polio prevalence in the district were marked. A total of 78 villages in 18 blocs were covered in the first phase of the total sanitation drive to convert the toilets.

Explains Gupta, "We estimated that to convert 60,000 toilets as per the grant fixed by the government of Rs 1500 per household for which we would need no less than 9 crores. So the campaign was broken into phases and focus was on 78 high risk villages where the number of toilets were the most. Ramzanpur a small village was picked as the pilot project where 1200 dry toilets existed. Work on the conversion began on July 5 2010 and till date over 50 percent of the target has been achieved. Similarly in villages like Sakiya Jungle out of 481 273 dry toilets have converted to pour flush and in another village Sheikhupura In Ujhani bloc work on converting 903 latrines has also begun. The funds for it was raised from the money issued to the village pradhans last year under Total Sanitation Campaign to convert dry toilets, but the amount remained unused. They were asked to return it and over 1.5 crores came back which were is being used to convert dry latrines in 78 villages. But we will need more flow of funds to cover the entire 60,000 dry latrines and we are in the process of planning how to manage it."

In the meantime pour flush toilets which are already being used has started showing signs of success and approval of the people specially the manual scavengers.

While that may sound encouraging women of the Valmiki caste group, an Schedule Caste population engaged in manual scavenging are both apprehensive and positive about the drive. But they are receptive to the fact that they will be suitably rehabilitated once they give up scavenging.

Avers 35 year old Viresha a manual scavenger and mother of ten among whom two of her young daughters are also engaged in scavenging, "Till now we had no option but to do this demeaning work of carrying human excreta from homes. For twenty five years I have done this and felt miserable when my daughters had to do the same. But now with the conversion of dry toilets a ray of hope has come for us to live with dignity. The state government has promised us pension, scholarships for our children and even homes once our BPL cards are made. I am ready to give up this work but only if the government keeps its promise."

"And we will," assures the DM and his team, "Though we are now giving Rs 1500 to both APL and BPL card holders once the drive picks up momentum we will give BPLs Rs 2300 for converting their toilets to pour flush and this includes the manual scavengers also. Apart from that provisions are already in place to provide benefits of old age and widow pension, loans through special component plans to start small scale business, homes for them under Mahamaya Awas benefits, BPL cards, schemes for financial support to the poor etc to the manual scavengers in Badaun. In addition those manual scavengers who wish to work under MNREGA will be given work in their village itself and their job cards will be ready in a week’s time.Till date more than 20 manual scavengers have been rehabilitated after they decided to leave their demeaning jobs. I think that’s not a bad start," he adds.

Construction of
pour flush toilets in Badaun
But the most positive impact the conversion drive has had is on the children of manual scavenger's who are now receiving educational benefits through a special scholarship scheme for them wherein Rs.1320 per child annually is paid.

On the other hand women belonging to other upper castes in the villages who had been using dry latrine until now are also ecstatic that their lives too have changed for the better.

Says Nanhi, 55 year old, village Pradhan of Sakiya Jungle, "Being a woman I can say that we are all relieved to have pour flush toilets to use now. It has not only improved sanitation and cleanliness in my village but also helped give women and young girls the privacy they craved for when they went to ease themselves. Our homes used to infested with millions of flies because of the excreta that remained in the house for days because of dry latrines. It spread diarreoh, cholera, polio and other diseases, but now things are better and our children are also healthy."

Adds 50 year old Saira Bano, whose pour flush latrine got functional just 15 days ago , "I never imagined it would make so much of a positive difference in my house. With five young daughters it was very difficult to find alternatives to use dry latrines as if the sweepers did not come to pick up the excreta we all had to go out in the fields. It was very uncomfortable and most of us would not go for days and developed many health problems. But now it is very convenient for all of us, I am so glad I decided to convert my toilet. As a mother I don't have to worry about the safety of my young daughters as I used to when they went out in the fields to answer nature's call in full public view."

In short the conversion drive is turning out to be small but much needed effort with a huge impact!

Anjali Singh - CNS
(The author is a UNICEF consultant and a senior journalist. She is also the Director of Saaksham Foundation

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