Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) Assam mission director Dr Siddharth Singh Credit: File image

Guwahati: The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in Assam on 2nd October, 2014. While only 172 villages out of 26,395 in the state were brought under the programme in the first phase, Assam quickly became a stellar example in the implementation and execution of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) project.

With the new government taking over, sanitation became one of the top priorities. An ad-hoc implementation structure gave way to a forward looking mission directorate headed by mission director Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) Assam Dr Siddharth Singh, who ensured that the programme became what it was always meant to be — a people’s movement.

Inclusive, innovative approach, reliance on social behaviour change communication became the cornerstone of the mission, rather than the construction-driven number crunching race.

Fighting the fight

With mass awareness generation being the key goal, interpersonal communication through an army of ground-level volunteers called Swacchagrahis were extensively employed to reach out to everyone. Mass media, rallies, banners, posters, street plays special events were also used as part of the campaign.

Realising the youth’s potential

“Students can be the best agents of change and every student from ‘KG to PG’ should be involved involved,” says Singh. The Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin)’s Assam team entered into a partnership with both Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University, reaching more than 400 colleges affiliated with these universities, and bringing thousands of students studying in these institutions into the fold of sanitation movement through formation of health and sanitation clubs and harnessing NSS wings active there. Dibrugarh University also started courses in solid waste management and sanitation.

“Various programmes and competitions were also taken up in schools to internalise sanitation and cleanliness as a way of life in the young minds, the most notable being the ‘Green Police’ initiative. These are a group of young motivated students who devote some time after school and stop people from littering roads, markets, public places, etc. This in particular has been extremely successful as an initiative,” added Singh.

Rangsapara: Assam’s cleanest village

Swachh Bharat Mission Assam team initiated the concept of cleanest village award. Approximately, 26,000 villages across 33 districts of Assam were scanned and ranked in terms of cleanliness and hygiene. The cleanest village in every district was awarded and the cleanest village in the entire state was indentified. Rangsapara, a small village in Goalpara district, was found to be the cleanest village in Assam.

“Interestingly, the entire population of Rangsapara is Below Poverty Line, but the achievement of Rangsapara makes one thing clear; economic condition and financial resources are not the only determinants of cleanliness or the lack of it,” says Singh.

Similarly, various programmes and competitions were taken up in schools to internalise sanitation and cleanliness as a way of life in the young minds, the most notable being the ‘Green Police’ initiative. A group of motivated students devote sometime after school to stopping people from littering roads, markets, public places, etc. A lot of awareness has been generated by this.

Donating toilets

How was Swachh Bharat Movement going to become a people’s movement? To facilitate that, the concept of ‘Daan Toilet’ was started in Jorhat. The movement encourages people to donate toilets to people. This could be to people who do not have it or set it up in the memory of someone.

This emotional approach caught the attention of a lot of people and several donors have come forward to contribute to the cause. The concept is now being extended to the entire state. The state has also set up a Swachh Assam Kosh to tap Corporate Social Responsibility funds and other voluntary contributions.

Entertainment and Swachhata

A full-length movie on the theme of sanitation was made, titled ‘Ajanite Mone Mone’, wherein instead of preaching, entertainment was been used for spreading the message of sanitation in an engrossing manner. This is the first regional movie on the theme.

How the revolution was achieved

With the consistent efforts, the sanitation scenario of Assam saw a drastic change. The percentage of households with access to safe sanitation by way of IHHL has gone up from 52% to 82% by February 2018. Nearly 17 lakh toilets were provided between May 2016 and February 2018 as opposed to just 6 lakh toilets between in 2014-16.

As per a survey, the usage of latrines went up to 95%, which is a massive achievement.

While only 172 villages were rid of the bane of open defecation till mid-2016, currently, 8,200 villages are Open Defecation Free (ODF). Five districts have become completely ODF and rural Assam achieved 100% ODF status on March 5.

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