Book: 'Sanitation in Gram Panchayats' from the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India

Seetha Gopalakrishnan
Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - 19:49

The 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India made Gram Panchayats the hub of all activities in the rural sphere. It gave legitimacy to Panchayat institutions, devolving powers as well as finances for their effective functioning. 29 functional items were added to the Eleventh schedule of the Constitution, vesting the powers of planning for and implementing works relating to these heads with the Panchayats. And, sanitation is one among them.

Supported by the UNDP, the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj has come out with a book titled ‘Sanitation in Gram Panchayats’, the first one in the 'Active Panchayat' series, to guide and assist elected representatives to deal with sanitation related issues within their jurisdictions.

Through charts and colourful graphics, the book provides a basic introduction to topics such as construction and maintenance of latrines in rural areas, ways to deal with solid waste, toilets in schools and a gives a brief overview of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Frequently asked questions at the end of each topic serve to dispel remaining doubts.

Organizing village communities

The importance of ensuring adequate sanitation can never be over emphasized. From preventing communicable diseases to ensuring normal growth of children, sanitation and hygeine is closely linked to health of the community as a whole.

The book gives a glimpse of how a village water and sanitation committee should be constituted and provides a simple Panchayat sanitation plan that can be duplicated in Panchayats across the country. The broader concept of sanitation, of that beyond just toilets, has been communicated very coherently.

Eliminating open defecation

A separate section clears the air about open defecation (OD) and its negative effects. A three pronged strategy to eliminate OD lists creating a demand for toilets, strengthening sanitary material supply and creating social pressure to get rid of the habit as essentials for eliminating OD.

Readers are introduced to the concept of Community Approach to Total Sanitation (CATS). Here, the community as a whole is involved in the planning and execution of programmes aimed at improving their sanitary status. Initiating a dialogue with the community on the issue is the first step. This is usually followed by getting a sense of the current situation by conducting visits and mapping OD sites around the village. Villagers are then briefed about how faecal matter travels back into their systems causing disease and are made aware of the health related burden OD brings upon them.

Latrines: Construction and usage

A good sanitary latrine is one that helps prevent faecal matter from polluting the soil, surface as well as ground water sources and also keeps away insects and flies that transmit disease causing organisms.

Of the two main components of a latrine, the sub-structure which decides what happens to the urine and faeces gains more importance than the super-structure which mainly secures the individual’s privacy.

The working principles of different types of latrines, their construction and maintenance are discussed in detail. The role of the gram Panchayats and the village water and sanitation committees in the construction and maintenance of individual household as well as community latrines is listed out clearly.

Managing waste

While open defecation continues to top India’s sanitation concerns, solid waste management isn’t far behind. Beauty concerns aside, rubbish strewn along the streets are excellent breeding grounds for disease causing germs and can directly impact the health of those living around them.

Source segregation of waste in biodegradable and non- biodegradable reduces the overall solid waste burden. Biodegradable waste materials can be easily composted at home and if the waste generation is considerable, biogas plants can also be installed to supplement the household’s energy supply. The collection and disposal of inorganic and non- biodegradable wastes should be done in a co-ordinated manner across the Panchayats to minimize costs.

Ways to deal with waste water from the kitchen and bath areas have also been incorporated in the chapter. Kitchen gardens, installing soak pits and leach pits are some of the ways in which grey water can be recycled within the premises. While grey water contains no to very low pathogens, ‘black water’ that comes out of toilets cannot be dealt with in the same manner as their pathogen content is very high. Panchayats should draw up plans to deal with black water.

Sanitation in schools and anganwadis

Sanitary conditions are a basic requirement in schools where children, who can be particularly vulnerable to diseases, spend a considerable amount of time. Provisioning clean latrines, running water supply and providing ways to safely dispose solid and liquid waste should be taken up by Gram Panchayats in all the schools and anganwadis under their watch.

Apart from this, children should be made aware of the benefits of hygiene early on through engaging activities and games on sanitation and good health.

Gram Panchayats, along with School Management Committees should play an active role in implementing water supply and sanitation programmes. Proper liaison should be maintained with the concerned government department to ensure timely assistance and follow up, if any.

Personal and community hygiene

Practising good personal hygiene is a critical part of keeping communicable diseases at bay. Regularly washing hands before eating and after defecation, wearing clean clothes, wearing slippers before going out and practising menstrual hygiene all part of the personal hygiene routine.

The community at large should keep an eye on the overall cleanliness and hygiene of the surroundings. Gram Panchayats should lay down guidelines for shopkeepers, eateries, slaughter-houses and livestock rearers to keep their premises and the surroundings clean.

Call for a ‘nirmal’ and ‘swachh’ Bharat

Co-ordinating and implementing sanitation programmes is an integral part of the Gram Panchayats’ mandate. A clear understanding of the provisions and deliverables of flagship programmes in the sanitation sector is very important for Panchayat functionaries.

The main objectives of and the components under the Government’s Swachh Bharat Mission has been listed out clearly for the benefit of Panchayat leaders and workers. Details about and the selection criteria for the ‘Nirmal Gram Puraskar’ awarded to villages that achieve open defecation status has also been mentioned.

Duties of Gram Sabha Members

To leady by example, a list of some of the basic duties of members of Panchayats have been listed out which include practicing individual hygiene and avoiding open defecation or urination. Keeping their houses and surroundings clean and segregating waste should be actively practised by all panchayat officials and members.

You can download the book in a Portable Document Format from the link below.

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