By Bibhudatta Sahu
Each time a city or small municipality performs well on any parameters of city resilience and sustainable development, it facilitates the development and transformation of India into a modern nation. Recently, when a small unknown municipality, Vyasnagar, in the Jajpur district of Odisha, achieved the Open Defecation Free ++ status (ODF plus plus), India also inched closer to its dreams and aspirations. After achieving the ODF status in 2018 and ODF++ status in 2021 from the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoUHA) under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Vyasnagar has become one of the fastest moving Urban Local Body (ULB) for sustainable urban sanitation in the country.
COVID-19, SDG 6 and Vyasnagar’s ODF ++ status
Vyasnagar’s covetable performance in accomplishing the ODF++ status is particularly significant, especially in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world is still grappling with recurring waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become even more urgent to address people’s basic needs, rectify fundamental weaknesses in our system, and move towards building a fairer and resilient world. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has already provided a blueprint to combat the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges facing our world. In this regard, SDG 6, which focuses on “ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, has become all the more critical. The SDG 6 assumes primary importance because other goals such as health, food security, and livelihood are closely associated with a country’s ability to provide water and sanitation for all. Every step that brings us closer to these goals is laudable. In this context, Vyasnagar’s ODF++ status and its other achievements in urban sanitation will inspire all other similar municipalities in the country.
SBM and Odisha Urban Sanitation Strategy 2017
In line with the objectives of SDG 6, India declared itself as Open Defecation Free (ODF) in October 2019. Soon after, the Central government launched ODF+ and ODF++ under Phase II of SBM aimed towards proper waste management. Taking a cue from the national policy environment that started prioritizing the sanitation sector, especially after the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission, in 2017, Odisha also revised its ‘Odisha Urban Sanitation Strategy’ (OUSS) and Odisha Urban Sanitation Policy. Since then, the state government’s Housing and Urban Development Department (H&UDD) has made unprecedented strides in increasing access to individual and community toilets. Odisha has given equal priority to handling the Faecal Sludge generated out of its cities. The state has constructed Septage Treatment Plants (SeTP) in close to 50 ULB’s. Out of these, 34 SeTPs are transferred to Mission Shakti/Transgender SHGs for operating and maintenance. The state government has given particular importance to active citizen and stakeholder participation to make its cities and towns clean, sanitized, ensuring good public health for all citizens.
Vyasnagar: Innovating and dreaming big
What makes the case of a small municipality like Vyasnagar unusually striking is its big aspirations and adoption of innovative solutions in urban sanitation. In Odisha, Vyasnagar is the first municipality to remediate existing landfill sites in the city into ecological parks using Bio-mining and processing legacy wastes. It is also the only municipality in the state that has channelled the resources to transform a 15-year-old dumpsite into an ecological park. The municipality has given particular importance to the 3Rs (recycle, reuse, and reduce) in the planning process, significantly reducing the city’s waste. For the city’s beautification, sculptures and murals made of scrap material are placed at prominent places. Vyasnagar has taken unprecedented steps in adopting innovation and the best available technology in Liquid waste management. The municipality utilizes the RENEU (restoration of Nallah with ecological units) technology to treat storm water drains in an eco-friendly, cost-effective and efficient manner. Vyasnagar is the only municipality in Odisha applying this first-of-its-kind natural way of treating drain water.
Vyasnagar has rapidly accomplished its sanitation and solid waste management goals, including the ODF++ status, by leveraging public participation and administrative will. Taking inspiration from the Indore model, Vyasnagar has also implemented decentralized projects that have strengthened community engagement and ensured the long-term sustainability of initiatives. The entire solid waste management value chain has been managed through the women collectives (SHGs) as Swachh Sathis. It has also streamlined the solid waste management value chain through an innovative citizen engagement model using ICT-based technology to monitor the entire system.
Further, in Vyasnagar, 100 percent of the toilets come under the ‘Best Urinals/Aspirational Category’. To ensure the sustainability of existing infrastructure, the municipality has completed the face-lifting of all public and community toilets. All the public and community toilets under Vyasnagar municipality are equipped with 24/7 water supply, electricity, incinerator, sanitary pad vending machines, water-saving technology, ultra-modern fixtures and fittings.
Most importantly, the municipality has invested in the capacity building of its frontline workers and SHGs. For instance, it has collaborated with National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) to conduct sanitation workers’ skill development training programs. Equally important are the awareness campaigns initiated by the municipality to trigger behavioural change by engaging the community. In this regard, the wall paintings have become an essential medium in the city to convey ‘clean and green Vyasnagar’.
Vyasnagar’s ODF++ status is the outcome of the tireless efforts of its district administration, especially the sanitation wing and operations and maintenance wing of the ULB, and the active and informed participation of its citizens. However, to make the progress permanent and achieve a more holistic impact on sanitation, Vyasnagar must continue engaging the communities and adopting innovation wherever required. Moreover, Vyasnagar could also initiate and build a collaboration network to help other similar municipalities struggling with fewer resources and expertise in urban sanitation.
(The author is an independent researcher graduated from TISS, Mumbai with over 8+ years of working experience in the Government and Public Sector. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)