Palak a journalism graduate believes in simplifying the complicated and writing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. She calls herself a " hodophile" or in layman words- a person who loves to travel.
At a time when health and hygiene are increasingly becoming an indispensable part of one's life, Mukra village in Telangana has become the state's first gram panchayat to consolidate its effort to achieve the 'Open Defecation Free' title.
As per UNICEF, 36 states and union territories, 706 districts and over 603,175 villages in India have been declared open defecation free. However, a survey released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) in November 2019, titled "Drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and housing conditions in India", pointed out that about 28.7% of rural households across the country still lacked access to any form of toilet. Moreover, 3.5% of those who have access to toilets, don't use it.
The New Indian Express reported that the feat was achieved after spending 365 days on intense strategy-building, implementation and community participation methods. Meenakshi Gadge, the Sarpanch, who reportedly took charge on February 2, 2019, said that it was a year's hard work due to which the village bagged the title on July 22, 2020.
Several media reports have highlighted the Sarpanch's role in successfully implementing government schemes and developmental initiatives. The village only had only 20 houses equipped with bathrooms and toilets but the number rose to 160 after Meenakshi took up the role as a leader.
A 99-member team consisting of men, women and youngsters was formed to create awareness on the importance and benefits of having toilets in the house. Measures were taken to educate the residents on inculcating good habits and maintaining cleanliness. The team also extended help to the villagers who could not afford the construction of toilets. People facing financial constraints were aided in getting funds from the Village Development Committee (VDC).
Meenakshi had divided the team into four groups, one for each side of the village to facilitate proper implementation and monitoring of the plans. Every morning and evening, the groups would go around and catch the ones defecating in the open and fine them ₹1,000. Once a couple of people were reportedly caught and fined, the others stopped the habit due to the heavy penalty charges.
This team reported a nine-member team, including the Sarpanch, who held meetings every Sunday to take stock of the activities being conducted to achieve the ODF status.
One of the challenges faced by the Sarpanch and her team was to bring a change in the mindset of people who still could not break away from the age-old habit of defecating in the open. Once the communication channel was established and steps regularly monitored, people volunteered to get toilets constructed in their houses.
Apart from this, the village has also been selected as the best gram panchayat in preparing vermicompost and for cleanliness. Meenakshi explained that it takes 60 days to collect the garbage and turn it into vermicompost and shared that recently, they sold 50 bags of the compost for ₹1,000 each, making a handsome profit of ₹50,000.
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