Churu, a town in the Thar desert populated by 1.2 lakh people, has come a long way in the last three years. Over 40 per cent of households in the town — rated as India’s dirtiest town by the Planning Commission — were forced to defecate in the open due to lack of toilets. Today, thanks to a scheme launched under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, it is close to becoming almost completely free of open defecation — a distinction few districts in north India have achieved. However, poor implementation threatens to sabotage the good work done so far.
Poor sanitation has a direct impact on the unexpectedly high rates of malnutrition in India, a nation responsible for 60% of the world’s open defecation. The 2011 census reinforced this connection as it revealed that over half of India’s households have no toilets. The rural sanitation campaign NBA (originally launched as the Total Sanitation Campaign in 1999) is aimed at eliminating open defecation by 2022 (revised from the earlier aim of 2017), NBA’s joint director Sandhya Singh told The Hindu .
Churu’s district collector, Rohit Gupta, a 2006-batch IAS officer of the Rajasthan cadre, was determined to achieve this target when he took over in November last year. “There is no justification we can give to our people and the world for why India has such high rates of open defecation, and of infant and child mortality. What we decided to do was have a comprehensive focus on malnutrition and health, and a major part of this was eliminating open defecation,” Mr. Gupta told The Hindu .
Under the ingenious scheme, households which are below the poverty line, or from backward communities, or headed by single women, must build a toilet and provide photographic proof of it to the district authorities, who will then reimburse them with Rs. 9,100 — of which Rs. 4,600 would come from the NBA and Rs. 4,500 from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
Mr. Gupta has considerably streamlined the paperwork, district officials said.