ITANAGAR: As 2018 set in, the Arunachal Pradesh government did what was thought impossible just a few months back- that the state will be declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) two years before the national deadline of October 2, 2019.

Arunachal Pradesh became the second state in the region to be declared ODF after Sikkim. The Swachh Arunachal Mission was launched on October 2 by the state government last year at Tawang. It envisaged the Swachh Protocol (Cleanliness Protocol) to ensure sustainability of assets created under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).

The project gained traction after the state government provided for an added incentive of Rs 8,000 per toilet on top of the Centre’s support of Rs 12,000, raising the grant for constructing a toilet to Rs 20,000.

One of the first districts to be declared ODF was East Kameng where the administration received the eager support of the East Kameng Social Cultural Welfare Organization (EKSCWO)- an umbrella organisation representing the five tribal communities that call the district home - in convincing people to adopt the new concrete toilets.

The EKSCWO had earlier resolved that its executive members would adopt villages and persuade residents to build individual household latrines (IIHL) in their villages. While there were challenges, some adopted innovative means to persuade villagers.

At Lorrah and Riga Camp in Bameng administrative circle of East Kameng, a total of 50 IIHLs were built. It took guile to convince people.

Journalist-turned-bureaucrat and current vice-chairman of EKSCWO, Dahey Sangno, who adopted the villages, said that he and others roped in the churches to help them convert people to adopt the new toilets.

He said that the churches announced to prohibit the entry of flock members if they did not build the concrete toilets. It was also mandated, however, that the toilets must not just be built but should be used as well.

“Building toilets is not a challenge. Convincing people to use them is,” Sangno said

PHED executive engineer, Bharat Sonam (who also adopted a village), informed that a total of 6,616 IIHLs were built across the district since October last year. He said that there were challenges in convincing people initially but that they eventually took to the concept.

He did, however, admit that although the set target was achieved there are still pockets where villages are not completely ODF with some residents still preferring the traditional outhouses called gyamre.

Sangno said that one of the arguments that he placed was to tell villagers that if they do not defecate in the open when they visit other places, why they should do it in their own homes.

Both Sonam and Sangno said that while people may not be defecating in the open, the pigs still are.

Traditional pigsties are still ubiquitous in rural parts of the districts and restraining pigs to confined spaces is an issue that requires addressing. The hope is to bring the pigs in line as well.

While the district and the state have been declared ODF, challenges will, of course, remain. The ODF status is dynamic and can change on a daily basis. The biggest challenge will not only be to build more toilets but to ensure that people use them. ‌