Mahatma Gandhi once termed cleanliness as next to godliness. Proper sanitation is important not only for maintaining health but it also plays a vital role in the life of individuals and society. Good sanitary practices help in protecting the environment through prevention of contamination of water and soil, thereby leading to prevention of diseases. The government of India terms the sanitation scheme as a ‘community- led’ programme which aims to create awareness regarding safe sanitation and basic hygiene practices and also to generate effective demand for toilets in households, schools, aanganwadis and community centres. The programme relies heavily on Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities to bring about attitudinal and behavioral changes among the rural communities towards safe sanitation practices. Through an assessment of the communication strategies adopted under the sanitation drive in Mangoli gram panchayat of Bhimtal block in Uttarakhand, the present study highlights the factors behind the failure of government machinery and project functionaries in ensuring ‘local participation and interest’ and their inability in offering ‘site-specific’ solutions to rural communities.
From 1980’s on wards, the sanitation scheme in India has witnessed multiple changes in its nomenclature. Launched as ‘Central Rural Sanitation Programme’ (CRSP) in 1986, the sanitation scheme was rechristened as the ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ in 1999. In mid-2012, the scheme was re-launched as the ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’. By emphasizing on the need to provide toilets to rural women and girls in India during his maiden Independent Day speech on August 15, 2014, the newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi made it clear that sanitation was going to be one of the pet projects of his government. The scheme was renamed as ‘Swatchch Bharat Mission’.
In the past decades, a consensus has emerged among the policy makers and experts in India and rest of the world that participation of local communities in the development initiatives enhances their sense of ownership and it also helps in offering creative solutions to site-specific problems. Like several other development schemes, the sanitation drive also entrusts responsibility for implementation of the project with the local governments (Panchayati Raj institutions) with active assistance from state government agencies, NGOs concerned and other community-based organisations rather than solely with the central and state governments.
Under this scheme, the government offers cash incentive to the weaker sections of society for the construction of toilets and also extends sanitary hardware assistance to enhance the rural family’s capacity to choose appropriate options such as an affordable household toilet as per its economic condition.
The communication strategies adopted under various development schemes in the past have failed to take notice of the traditions, class structure, power play, dynamics of inter-personal relations existing at the village level, as revealed by the various studies (Roy, 1993, Bhowmick and Sinha (cited in Sachchidananda et al.’s Tradition and Development 1988).
However, the sanitation drive depends to a large extent on the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) components. IEC, by ideally combining mass media, traditional and interpersonal communication, can play a vital role in spreading awareness among rural communities regarding the need to adopt proper sanitation and hygiene practices, and also to help them access the monetary assistance and other benefits offered under the development initiative.
Uttarakhand, with a total area of 53,485 sq km, has a unique topography. About 90 per cent of the area is mountainous, with over 60 per cent area covered by forests. Due to its peculiar geography and the poor economic condition of rural masses, promotion of sanitation services in the rural areas of Uttarakhand is quite tough. Open defecation and poor health practices had been a common feature of the hilly belt of the state for decades.
Some major studies in Bhimtal and Dhari blocks of Nainital (Dobhal, 2008; Capila, 2004) have extensively covered various aspects of participatory management of local resources and the quantitative progress of the sanitation campaign in the villages, however, their findings have been unable to throw adequate light on the ‘qualitative aspects’ of the project, particularly neglecting the assessment of the participatory communication strategies.
In view of the lack of an adequate attempt to go beyond the quantitative appraisal of the sanitation scheme where communication and sensitisation are the essence for achieving the desired goals, there is a dire need to conduct a comprehensive study to assess whether the communication strategies being adopted at the village level are actually matching the ones mentioned as the project goals in the government records. The present study attempted to find this out through a case study of three villages under a gram panchayat in Uttarakhand.
- To find out the level of awareness among villagers about sanitation and hygiene practices.
- To find out the level of the villagers’ awareness regarding the sanitation scheme and its provisions.
- To find out the effectiveness of the communication strategies adopted under the sanitation drive.
- To study the roles of multiple actors in ensuring participation of rural communities in the sanitation scheme.
- To find out if the sanitation scheme is fulfilling its objective of providing site-specific solutions to villagers.
The nature of the study demanded an in-depth analysis of the sanitation scheme and the communication strategies adopted under it at the village level. Hence, a case study design was chosen for the present study.
Mangoli gram panchayat in Bhimtal development block of Nainital district in Uttarakhand was chosen for the case study. The selection was done on the basis of locale, demographic features, size, socio-economic status and the state of sanitary coverage in the households, educational institutions and community centres.
A sample of 300 respondents was drawn from three villages (Mangoli, Bhewa and Ling Lagga Mangoli) of Mangoli gram panchayat, comprising 200 males and 100 females.
Both primary and secondary data was collected for the study. The tools and techniques included field notes prepared during multiple field visits to the research site, structured interview schedules administered on the respondents from the villages, formal and informal discussions with various actors involved with the sanitation project: the project beneficiaries, school teachers, students, the sanitation officers, local functionaries at the block and village level, NGO(s) staff etc. Secondary source materials available in the official online and offline sanitation records were also used considerably.
- Discrepancies were found in the official records bearing the sanitation status, that is, the number of households with or without latrines, in Mangoli gram panchayat. The study revealed that a significant percentage of households in Mangoli, particularly belonging to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category, were still without toilets.
- A significant percentage of the respondents were aware of ‘some’ sanitation scheme, however, they were not able to recollect the name of the project or its features. Those who were aware of the scheme associated it either with the concept of the need to construct latrine or maintaining basic hygiene.
- A great degree of confusion was found among some of the remaining respondents who seemed to be confused with multiple welfare schemes operational in the area. Some of them even associated the sanitation scheme with Indira Awas Joyna.
- Most recalled messages linked to the sanitation scheme were about the harm caused by open defecation and benefits of personal hygiene.
- While majority of the respondents were aware of the health benefits of using latrines in the house, however, very few of them were aware of the environmental hazards of open defecation.
- Majority of female respondents associated the practice of open defecation with sense of shame and insecurity.
- Most of the respondents declined to attribute their awareness regarding sanitation and hygiene to the awareness campaign under the sanitation scheme. The respondents claimed to be already aware about the same even before hearing about it through project functionaries.
- Low degree of awareness was found among the respondents regarding the provisions of cash incentive and technical assistance offered under the sanitation scheme to those without household latrines.
- The percentage of the Above Poverty Line (APL) respondents who were slightly aware of the cash and technical assistance from the government was significantly higher as compared to their BPL counterparts.
- Only five per cent of the respondents were aware about the changes in the cash incentive provision under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan.
- Majority of the respondents were unaware of any baseline survey conducted in their villages in recent years under the sanitation scheme.
- The percentage of the APL respondents who were aware of the process of the beneficiary list prepared under the sanitation scheme was significantly higher than the BPL respondents, reflecting a wide knowledge gap based on socio-economic conditions.
- Majority of the respondents were unaware about their beneficiary status under the sanitation scheme.
- Gram pradhan and word-of-mouth were the most cited sources of information regarding the sanitation scheme by those who claimed to be aware about the project. Among these respondents, while most of the APL respondents termed gram pradhan as their most trusted source, majority of the BPL respondents accused the gram pradhan of showing bias in circulating the information of such schemes.
- Majority of the respondents claimed that the village-level motivators or the NGO staff never visited their houses to inform them about the sanitation scheme.
- Most of the respondents claimed that the sanitation-consultancy meetings or workshops never took place in their or any nearby village.
- Details regarding the cash incentive, technical assistance and procedure to access the benefits under the scheme were the most sought-after information by majority of respondents. However, the respondents who attended the project consultancy meetings reported that the discussions focussed entirely on information regarding basic sanitation and hygiene practices.
- Most of the respondents claimed that they were never involved by the NGO staff or any other functionary in drafting or delivering the sanitation messages.
- There is a significant need for conducting authentic and frequent baseline surveys to gather reliable data because the government records often rely on the outdated surveys conducted decades ago.
- The role of village representatives mainly gram pradhan assumes great importance because villagers rely on them considerably for seeking information regarding different development schemes. Acting as a direct link between the state government and people, gram pradhan must ensure wider participation of the villagers in such schemes by avoiding selective and biased circulation of information.
- In order to ensure participations of villagers, it is important for the functionaries to hold frequent meetings or workshops meetings in the panchayat ghar and to make sure that the information regarding the same be circulated well in advance to all the villagers through proper channels.
- The mismatch between the information-sought and information supplied to the villagers should be avoided in order to provide site-specific solutions to the villagers. As indicated by the study, most of the villagers were already aware of the benefits of sanitation and hygiene but they needed information regarding the cash incentive and technical assistance, which could have enabled those without household latrines to take advantage of the scheme.
- The role of the NGO staff and other functionaries should be monitored effectively and they should be encouraged to involve wider sections of the villagers, especially women and children in formulating and delivering the sanitation messages.
- Door-to-door campaigns should be increased because majority of women in villages are not able to spare time to attend workshops or meetings held in the far off places.
- The communication activities under the sanitation drive must strive to bridge the knowledge gap between the well-offs and weaker sections of the villages.
- Villagers often confuse sanitation scheme with some other development project. Hence, it becomes all the more important to actively involve village-based self-help groups, aanganwadi workers etc. to hold talks with the villagers frequently and answer their queries satisfactorily so as to bring clarity in their minds.
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