A district in India where everyone uses toilet

The initiative by the local district administration over the past three-four years, covering a population of nearly 2.5 million spread out in 1,496 big and small villages, has resulted in nearly 100 percent success among the villagers, a high-ranking official said.

Attending to nature's calls in the open was once a common occurrence in the villages which lacked toilets, both at home and in public places, the deputy chief executive officer of the district, Tukaram R. Garale, told IANS Monday.

"Stopping them was a major challenge as they have been used to it for centuries. We organised rath yatras, awareness campaigns, student drives, Gandhigiri and even punitive measures before the people finally accepted it," Garale said.

A few years ago, the district authorities decided to tackle the menace of people defecating in the open under a state government scheme - Nirmal Gram Yojana.
"Under this scheme, we started constructing private and public toilet blocks in all the villages, except the areas falling under the eight municipal councils with a population of around half million," Garale said.

Till date, the district administration has constructed 450,000 single-seater private toilets costing Rs.7,000 each and another 2,000 multi-seater public toilets costing around Rs.100,000 each, he added.

Though nearly 75 percent of the population accepted the changes in their morning habits, around 20 percent still refused to use the toilets and sauntered in the open every morning.

Initially, the district authorities tried to speak and convince them to use the toilets which were clean, had running water, and hygienic methods of disposing waste, but they did not succeed.

"We then adopted Gandhian methods of embarrassing them - the village heads would wait for them with flowers, coconuts, garlands as they came out of the bushes with lota (an empty can of water). This seemed to work and many did not return for similar honours," Garale said.

There was still a stubborn five percent which did not yield even  to Gandhigiri - so the district authorities decided to show them the law.

"The local panchayats booked them under Sections 117 and 115 of the Bombay Police Act for public nuisance and they were dragged to the police station or the courts as required," he said.

This ultimately brought the desired results - the unrelenting villagers collectively coughed up a fine of Rs.800,000 for defecating in public last year!

Though the maximum stipulated fine is Rs.1,200 per offence, the courts slapped anything ranging above Rs.400 - quite unaffordable for the poor villagers.

"Now, you can go around any village in the entire district and you will not find a single person, including children, defecating in the open," Garale smiled.

While the villagers gave up their old habits of defecating in the open, now the district administration has embarked on another mega scheme - afforestation drive under the eco-friendly scheme of the state government.

In the past one year or so, the Satara district administration has planted three million trees in the villages and other open spaces, which will have great positive ramifications in the near future, Garale said.

Satara, around 280 km south of Mumbai, is mostly a hilly district with a salubrious climate round the year.

Besides Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, it is also famous the Kaas Plateau, where millions of flowers bloom during monsoon each year and is now in the reckoning for a Unesco World Heritage listing.

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