At the Nirmal Gram Puraskar ceremony held here on Monday,every village that got the award was represented by the sarpanch and a gramsevak. Domegaon in Jalna district was the only village represented by a peon. Villagers had passed a resolution in the gram sabha to send Babasaheb Shelke,a peon at the village grampanchayat,instead of their sarpanch to receive the award. Reason: Two years ago,it was Shelke,a man who earned Rs 1,600 a month,who took it upon himself to eradicate open defecation in his village.
At the time,the village,which is around 52 kilometres from Jalna,had only 17 toilets for a population of a little above a thousand staying in about 200 households.
Rivalry between two factions ensured that the village also didn’t have good roads,water supply and sewage systems. Shelke noticed that two neighboring villages,Shirasgao and Ghodegao,had successfully conducted a sanitation drive. If these villages can do it,why not ours? he says. But the work ahead was a big challenge as he didn’t have any say in village politics. Neither did he have good education or a sound financial background.
The response was poor when the first meet was held to discuss implementation of sanitation drive in the village. Some big names in the village even opposed the move. Balasaheb then came forward and offered to lend money to those willing to build toilets. The money could be returned to him later after the village receive the government subsidy.
Poor families,especially those below poverty line (BPL) were not coming forward. Though the government grants a subsidy of Rs 2,200 per toilet,these families do not have enough money to build toilets. They always wait for subsidy amount. Hence my offer.
But soon he discovered that even after his offer very few BPL families were willing to participate as it was not possible to build a toilet in Rs 2,200. Construction of a toilet costs around Rs 6,000. So Shelke offered that he will bear the remaining amount. People agreed and he spent his savings,Rs 50,000,on toilet constructions.
When the first phase was over,around 20 toilets were ready and open defecation came down substantially. This increased my enthusiasm. I then decided to take this drive to the economically well-off (APL) families. But they showed little interest. Shelke then approached the local self-help groups for assistance. We changed tactics. We would go to the families and ask for the location where they wanted to build the toilets and used to start construction without taking a single penny from them.
To arrange funds,Shelke sold his one-and-a-half-acre land that brought about Rs 4 lakh. Most part of the land was used for the construction of toilets. Shelke even spent the income he got from his crop of cotton for the purpose.
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