While the entire state was on alert in September last year due to an upsurge in dengue, ASHA workers recorded no such cases in Bansa, thanks to the panchayat's concerted efforts to manage solid and liquid waste efficiently
Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh: “I would want my village to have a hospital,” Shubha Devi was quick to respond when asked about the changes she hoped to see in Bansa. Devi’s demand seemed reasonable considering that the nearest Community Health Centre (CHC) is 15 km away at block headquarters Mallawan.
One has to change three rickshaws to reach there, but service is almost unavailable after evening. It becomes even more crucial in times like last September, when Uttar Pradesh was put on alert mode due to an upsurge in dengue cases.
While the caseload in the state went over 13,000 in mid-October, Bansa in Hardoi district with 950 families and 5,062 inhabitants had no dengue patients, as recorded by government healthcare staff in the block.
“While our normal outpatient footfall in a day is 200 to 250, it went up to 500 in October with 90% cases related to fever. These were tested for dengue using rapid test kits and the blood samples from positive ones were sent for the confirmation test to Hardoi District Hospital,” said Dr Sanjay Singh, Superintendent, Mallawan CHC.
The CHC recorded 14 confirmed dengue cases, none from Bansa. All the six Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in the village panchayat conducted door-to-door monitoring. “We visited every home under our chetra [area] educating people about the precautionary measures. We enquired if anyone had fever. Thankfully, no dengue cases were found,” Vijaylaxmi (35), an ASHA since 2012, told 101Reporters. She has 950 people from 250 houses of Bansa under her careful watch.
However, there were people like Mukesh Kumar (40), who consulted a jholachap (quack) and visited a private lab in Mallawan to get his Complete Blood Count (CBC) checked when he fell ill with fever and body ache. While showing his CBC report, he pointed at the 1.1 lakh platelet count highlighted in bold, signalling a low count.
When enquired, Dr Sanjay said CBC was not a test for dengue. “The platelet count can fluctuate even in other kinds of fever and cannot be used to detect dengue,” he said.
Elaborating further, he said cleanliness and management of stagnant water could be a huge factor in controlling vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria. According to a 2015 study conducted in rural and urban Kolkata, household waste such as plastic and glass serves as a breeding ground for Aedes mosquitoes, a vector for dengue.
Addressing trash troubles
What made Bansa stand out was the rigorous waste management strategies put in place by the village panchayat, which includes a well-connected drainage system, dustbins to individuals and community waste bins, constructing a waste recycling centre and installing two incinerators for sanitary waste. From April to July last year, Bansa Resource Recovery Centre collected 13.50 tonnes of waste, including eight tonnes of wet waste, 5.3 tonnes of dry waste and 0.3 tonnes of sanitary waste.
Launched on October 2, 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission was implemented as a nationwide campaign to eliminate open defecation in rural areas by October 2, 2019. In the campaign's second phase, 34 village panchayats, including Bansa, in Mallawan block were chosen to reinforce Open defecation-free (ODF) behaviours and focus on providing interventions for safe management of solid and liquid waste.
However, the real change began only after Sampoornanand ‘Poonam’ Singh became the gram pradhan in May 2021. On the eighth day of every month, Sampoornanand holds an open gram sabha to interact with the community. Waste management was discussed in one such meeting, and people agreed to his idea of a clean village.
In 2021, Bansa got a one-time Central fund of Rs 30 lakh under the Swachh Bharat Mission, which facilitated the construction of a drainage system and leach pit. Apart from dustbins, incinerators and recycling centre, a greywater filtering system was funded by it.
After setting up the required facilities, door-to-door waste collection began in Bansa six months ago. “We give the dry waste to gadiwala, and dump wet waste in ghoor present in our households to turn it into manure. Earlier, we burnt dry waste in our backyards,” said Shubha Devi (45), who had come out on hearing the signature jingle, gadi wala aaya, ghar se kachra nikal, play out near her home at 8 am.
“Scattered plastic wrappers on village roads and piles of garbage stacked in gullies [ravines] were common sights earlier. The drainage system was poorly connected, often leading to water stagnation. All these are connected to everything from health to environment. But it took a while to make people aware,” Sampoornanand told 101Reporters.
Two lanes away from Shubha’s house is a Harijan basti Sri Devi (50) lives. She attested that for 37 years since her marriage, door-to-door waste collection or cleaning of drains has not happened. Drainage water used to flood the area during rains, submerging the adjacent plots. Fortunately, Sri Devi's house was always spared due to the elevation.
"Roadside litter was a common sight here. People mostly resorted to open burning of waste. Things began to improve after the present pradhan came into power,” Sri Devi told 101Reporters. She is aware of the benefits of cleanliness as her daughter Shivani Singh is an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife in Malihabad district, Uttar Pradesh.
Twenty five Scheduled Caste families live at Tikapurva. Rajshree(35) recalled the times when she had to wade through floodwaters to reach the handpump. “I have to go to the hand pump three to four times to fetch potable water. Earlier, it was gruesome during the rains. Water up till here!” she said, pointing at her calves. The issue was fully resolved only after the construction of proper connecting drains.
Since she was married here, she does not recall anything done with regards to waste collection or drains. “All these are new things. The pradhan had come to tell us that waste must be collected in bins. However, the drains here are cleaned in large intervals as compared to Bansa. Bansa looks much cleaner than our locality,” Rajshree said.
Though not content with the cleanliness standards in Tikapurva, Reeta Devi (19) acknowledged that flooding of the area had been addressed three years ago. “I think this might be good for my children's health as well because stagnant water breeds mosquitoes, which cause diseases. But I am not too sure why the waste must be segregated,” Reeta, a mother of two toddlers, told 101Reporters.
To Rajshree, waste collection seemed futile because her family did not generate any dry waste. She also felt the community bins to gather dry waste lying in the streets were placed far from her place. Household waste collection happens in Tikapurva, and Rajshree has individual bins to dispose of household waste.
Heeralal (75 years) of the same area also claimed, “There is hardly any dry waste.”
A paper by Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, cites underreporting and open burning as the two largest challenges for sustainable waste management in India, calling out the missing observational data regarding waste generation in rural belts of India.
“Official government data deny the existence of rural waste generation in India. The rural data gap makes it difficult to construct accurate open waste burning emission inventories and plan waste management infrastructure,” it added.
The bumpy road
Better penetration of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) techniques is the need of the hour in Bansa. “We performed nukkad nataks [street plays], put up posters and wall slogans to boost awareness about solid and liquid waste segregation, but IEC is a persisting challenge. We still need more penetration to educate people about waste generation and its segregation,” Neeraj Kumar, former additional development officer, Bansa, told 101Reporters. He was transferred from the post last July.
“Monitoring the work is a challenge. This is a big village with six majras [hamlets]. We still lack sufficient infrastructure for collection, segregation and for employing enough staff,” said Vivek Singh, who assists Sampoornanand in managing subsidiary tasks of the panchayat.
“We need a minimum of eight safai karmis to cover the entire panchayat. In 35 bylanes of Bansa, every drain gets cleaned once in 15 days because we do not have enough manpower,” Sampoornanand informed.
There are two government-employed sanitation staff, but the numbers are grossly insufficient. Anurag Kumar (19) and Vikas Kumar (20) have been hired by the pradhan for Rs 9,000 per month. Both belong to the Scheduled Caste and are generational sanitation workers. “We tried looping in people from other communities by repetitively addressing it in the gram sabha meetings but to no avail,” Vivek said.
At the recycling centre, Anurag and Vikas sort the collected dry waste into plastic, glass and metal to store them in designated compartments for selling later. “The revenue generated is routed back to the panchayat fund and utilised for improving waste management strategies,” Vivek said. However, this amount is not significant at present.
The Swachhta fund has been fully exhausted, Sampoornananda informed. However, under the 15th Finance Commission Report, 30% of the Central grant to be “disbursed to rural local bodies shall be earmarked for sanitation and maintenance of ODF status, and this should include management and treatment of household waste, and human excreta and faecal sludge management in particular.”
“This is not enough. The maintenance of the systems in place also requires funds. We are allowed to pay a maximum of Rs 6,000 to helpers from the Gram Panchayat Development Fund. The additional Rs 3,000 is paid out of my pocket,” he detailed.
Furthermore, presently only one collection e-vehicle is present. “We are trying to make available another collection vehicle to improve efficiency,” Vivek said.
Despite 77.7% of the state's population being rural as per the 2011 Census, the annual by the Central Pollution Control Board, New Delhi, has no substantial data regarding the state’s rural waste management. In the report, Uttar Pradesh ranked 26th among all states and union territories in terms of its environmental performance pertaining to solid waste management.
“Mallawan block has 54 village panchayats and while holding meetings with gram pradhans, we often showcase Bansa as an example to solve the waste crisis in villages,” Awdhesh Kumar, Assistant Development Officer, Mallawan block, told 101Reporters.
Bansa is amongst the three shortlisted village panchayats from Uttar Pradesh for the national level Swachhta Puruskar. The results are awaited.
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
Cover Photo - ASHA Vijaylaxmi talking to the people in Bansa (Photo - Aishwarya Tripathi, 101Reporters)
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