NEW DELHI: Indian FMCG group Dabur has helped 12 villages in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh reach open defecation-free status, a focus of government policy in recent times, and part of Delhi’s Swachh Bharat initiative.

Dabur’s target is to bring a total of 26 villages the status by the end of this financial year, the Economic Times reported. So far, the effort has seen the company help to build toilets at more than 2,600 houses across four villages in Himachal Pradesh and eight in Uttar Pradesh.

"Our idea is to improve the overall hygiene standards in these villages and turn them into model villages, offering a variety of services, from operating health posts," Dabur India CSR Head A. Sudhakar told the paper.

The company’s CSR arm Sundesh has also embarked on an awareness campaign to drive cleanliness in villages.

Last year, the government launched a national ad campaign with Swachh Bharat brand ambassadors Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar. Announcing the campaign, the minister responsible, Narendra Singh Otmar, told reporters that the ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation had fully galvanised its educational and behavioural mechanisms to centre the campaign on people.

This Monday marked the third year that the initiative has been in place. Government data reported by the Hindustan Times noted the substantial progress made in that time. However, the World Bank had termed its implementation as “moderately unsatisfactory.”  

Avani Kapur, a fellow and director of accountability at the Centre for Policy Research, said up to 40% of the villages had remained unverified. “What we have seen on the ground is that declarations often follow presence of toilets rather than actual ODF,” he observed.

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) at an Independence Day speech asking, “Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? Whether dignity of women is not our collective responsibility? The poor womenfolk of the village wait for the night; until darkness descends, they can’t go out to defecate.” His aim was to make India open defecation-free within five years.

An article in LiveMint noted the shortfall in the government’s strategy, namely that they prioritised the building of toilets over behaviour change. “According to religious beliefs, physical cleanliness is not always the same as ritual purity,” the site wrote, “For the English-speaking elite, it is easy to forget that for a caste-conscious society, social mobility depends on emulating the practices of the so-called higher castes.”

Campaigns such as Unilever’s Lifebuoy, which has successfully used emotion to engineer behaviour change among mothers, offers useful lessons.

Sourced from Economic Times, Hindustan Times, World Bank, Mint; additional content by WARC staff