In order to make Maharashtra free of open defecation, the state government has resorted to a unique method — it has set up ‘Good Morning’ teams, which work towards ending this practice.
In an order issued by the state government on Thursday, these teams have been asked to not only monitor areas where the practice is still prevalent, but also check whether local residents had access to toilets.
However, the biggest challenge for these teams would be to put an end to this practice completely in the next five months. The target was set by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had assured that the state would achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF) status by October this year. These teams — comprising representatives of local bodies, self-help groups, NGOs, students and social workers working in the area of sanitation and cleanliness — have also been authorised to report to civic bodies in case they find that in certain areas, access to toilets was being denied.
For example, until recently, some slums in Pimpri-Chinchwad had one toilet per 1,000 people. The situation has improved significantly with initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat campaign, as the current ratio stands at one toilet per 31 people.
Pratima Joshi, founder of Shelter Associates, which works towards improving sanitation and building toilets in urban areas, said, “This will be an effective move if it has been taken after considering the current… access to clean toilets for those people who continue to practice open defecation.”
The order has categorically mentioned that the ‘Good Morning’ teams have the power to take up pending toilet construction issues with local civic bodies and help speed up the works. If the team found people who, despite having access to an existing toilet facility, were relieving themselves in the open, it would impose heavy fines on them.
Joshi suggested focused activities for community mobilisation that would not only help create awareness but also deter people from continuing with the practice. “With increased awareness, people will start using toilet facilities , which many a times remain unused as people have been used to defeacating in the open for years,” she explained.
Until now, her team has constructed over 9,000 toilets in six cities, including Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Kolhapour, Sangli and Navi Mumbai. “People prefer individual toilets at home and also maintain them well… it is far better than poorly-maintained community toilets or relieving themselves in the open in crowded city areas,” said Joshi.
The state government has, so far, constructed 3.90 lakh toilets for a population of 8.32 lakh, which had no access to toilets, as revealed in 2014. Another 1.90 lakh toilets are currently being constructed. As many as 200 towns in the state have already been declared ODF by the Union government.