If year after year, Maharashtra has been leading in rural sanitation at the national level, the credit entirely goes to the Water Supply and Sanitation department of the Government of Maharashtra for their innovative “Sant Gadge Baba Gram Swachata Abhiyan” or the Village Cleanliness Campaign launched in May 2000. The campaign which began as a community initiative has taken a competitive edge with villages attempting to excel and bag the highest award in various categories.
Inspired by Sant Gadge Baba, one of the early exponents of cleanliness, the campaign has led village panchayats and village organisations in rural Maharashtra to create a clean environment. One of the early officials who played a crucial role in the rural cleanliness campaign, S.D. Thakre, Secretary-Special Projects and Administrative Services, Government of Maharashtra, said, “Baba had a unique way of preaching cleanliness. He used to go from house to house collecting their garbage as alms and converting it to rich manure.”
The challenge was not just to clean up the village build toilets, drains and access roads, but also to see that the village stayed clean.
The Abhiyan offers handsome prize money to villages that emerge on top at the block, district, division and state levels after stages of assessment. The department has set elaborate guidelines that are to be adhered to and five tier assessment committees consisting of non-officials, officials, journalists and voluntary organizations assess the gram panchayats in the state.
“The government gives prizes worth
र 7 crores every year for all the competitions. However, it has motivated rural masses to such an extent that the total internal resources mobilized by the village communities in the last three years of the competition are estimated to be around र 800 crores.” The prize money is required to be utilised only for the community development activities in the village.
In Maharashtra, of the 1.7 million toilets constructed between 1997-2000, only about 50% were being used for the intended purpose. In short, filth, open defecation and blocked open gutters accompanied by rampant growth of flies and mosquitoes were normal scenes in rural Maharashtra. ‘Sanitation’ was not perceived as a ‘popular’ subject and had no political patronage.
But the cleanliness campaign achieved “what laws could not achieve for years; reduced epidemics and water related diseases; did away with many social taboos; encouraged women to come out from the confines of their house; and strengthen the community spirit among the villages.
Like in the previous years, Maharashtra this year too has over 3000 villages winning the Nirmal Gram Puraskar at the national level. “The response to the scheme at the village level was instant and with proper guidance villagers have been able to achieve overwhelming results in the name of competition. No village today wants to be left behind in sanitation. If one village is adopting something new, the nearing village is quick to implement the same in order to bag the award,” added Thakre.