Nirmal Chakraborty was approaching Harinathpur on his way to his office at Bagda in North 24 Parganas when he came across an old acquaintance who during casual discussion, referred to the open defecation of some people by Ghatpatila, a small village nearby. Nirmal, an employee of the Sanitation Department of Bagda Block Development office of the Government of West Bengal, was surprised to know about people in that area maintaining such old habits even in 2015.

He decided to enquire about it himself and within minutes, Nirmal was found going along the narrow and quiet lanes of Beara village towards Ghatpatila, an obscure locality mostly inhabited by people of Parui community. As Nirmal walked through the village of Ghatpatila, he found clinching evidence of open defecation by the villagers because there were no toilets.

Bagda is one of the remotest blocks of North 24 Parganas. Surrounded by Bangladesh on two sides, north and east, it has a population of 2,42,674  according to Census 2011. The economy is mostly agrarian. However, a section of people are engaged in fishing.

Ms. Malabika Khatua, the Block Development Officer of Bagda, is an enterprising young lady bubbling with enthusiasm. Greatly inspired by the ideas of Swachh Bharat, she began an all-round effort to implement the project rechristened as Nirmal Bangla by the state government, in her block. When Nirmal came running to inform her of his finding, she decided to visit the place immediately.

The Block Development Officer Ms. Malabika Khatua speaking to villagers at Ghatpatila

The villagers were surprised to find the BDO along with the other higher- ups enquiring about their sanitary habits. It was revealed in no time that the small village with about 175 families had no toilets at all! Though Ghatpatila is surrounded by localities with concrete houses and sanitary toilets, they admitted that they themselves did not have such facilities. The BDO was however not a person to let the practice prevail.

She began to frequent the village with other officials of the Block and explained the disadvantages of open defecation to all. Several campaigns were arranged along with magic shows to motivate the villagers. Soon people, especially mothers began to realize and some of them agreed to build toilet in their houses. The provision of the government aided scheme enabled the Block Development Officer to offer them a sanitary toilet if an initial deposit of Rs.900 was made, by an allocation of Rs.10,000 per toilet.

The Block Development Officer and with her team inspecting the toilets at Ghatpatila

As one of the villagers paid the money ,some others got encouraged. In this way, construction of toilets began at Ghatpatila and within three months, 82 toilets were constructed in the village to bring it under total sanitation. The cost of each toilet is Rs.10,000/- of which Rs.900/- is to be provided by the individual.

There was hardly any place in the village where one could meet the residents. A local shop however helped the Block officials to arrange a meeting place where they would listen to the problems and help the villagers to find out a solution. There was a person who was not able to accumulate the required sum for his hand-to-mouth living. The BDO helped him to pay in installments to get his toilet. One other villager, Shri Kanai Biswas, had no money to deposit and so he volunteered to construct his own toilet. In this way people of Ghatpatilla, belonging to SC community, acquired their new toilets and earned a name in the district of North 24 Parganas.

Local shop, the only meeting place at Ghatpatila

There were however other problems too. As the villagers were not habituated, some of them still preferred to go out in the open instead of using the toilet. The BDO tackled the problem in a unique manner. She formed two groups, one with girls named Rani Jhansi Group and the other with boys, Subhas Chandra Bose Group to maintain vigil and whenever they would find someone going to defecate in the open, they would blow the whistle given to each one of them by the BDO. The measure was so effective that it immediately bore fruit and now no one prefers to go out for the shame of being caught, said Ms. Malabika.

Nirmal Chakraborty with the members of Rani Jhansi team
BDO and Karmadhakshya of Bagdah with the kids of Subhas Chandra Bose team at Ghatpatila

Ghatpatila is a shining example of three Ds – dedication, determination and dynamism. The Block officials with the active guidance of Smt. Shampa Adhikary, Chairperson, Panchayat Samiti and the BDO, made it a point to bring the people of Paruipara, Ghatpatilla under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan thus achieving a rare success not only in North 24 Parganas, but in the entire state.

The little ones of Ghatpatila are now using toilets, the greatest civic amenity available to them so far

– By Shri Partha Ghosh, Assistant Director (Media & Communication), PIB, Kolkata