Key Learnings from a Major Project towards providing Improved Sanitation Facilities through the Construction of 20,000 Household toilets in Barmer district: one of the largest sanitation CSR interventions

Posted on


The Barmer district has some of the worst socio-economic indicators in India with more than 90 percent people practicing open defacation in rural areas and ~85 percent overall (as opposed to the average of 50 percent in India) as a whole (refer to the table)

Such practices have, in turn, resulted in contamination of nearby water sources, thereby contributing to some of the highest Infant and Maternal Mortality (IMR, MMR) rates in the country.

Barmer Sanitation Statistics

#. Present Indicators Dist. Barmer % State % Rural % Urban % Source
1 % Households having toilet facility within premises 14.9 35.0 9.7 83 Census 2011
2 % Households having Improved toilet facility 13.2 34.1 9.4 62.8 Census 2011
3 % Households practicing open defecation 84.7 64.3 89.8 16.8 Census 2011

For example, media reported that in 2013, over 24 cities and towns, including Barmer, Balotra and Jalore, received Government water only once every four days[1]; and Jaipur, the capital city of the state, topped the list of water contamination with as many as 9,628 habitations not having access to clean water. It is estimated that ~75 percent of the Indian villages with multiple water quality problems fall in Rajasthan (Report of Expert Committee on Integrated Development of Water Resources, GoR, June 2005).

In 2013, under the ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’ (NBA) program, a major sanitation initiative was commenced. We studied several models before finalising our strategy. These included the ‘Maryaada’ model implemented by Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL) and that of the Aga Khan Foundation, which has been active in Gujarat and Bihar.

Finally, the model chosen envisaged the Zila Parishad contributing INR 12,000 per toilet and Cairn India, a major corporate active in Barmer, contributed  an additional amount of INR 4,000 towards the construction of as many as 20,000 toilets. The beneficiary households would also contribute INR 1000 each to ensure their ownership of the facility constructed. The extra funds contributed by Cairn would go towards ensuring some amount of value-addition, such as:

  • Cement bricks used for construction rather than slabs
  • A good quality soak pit with cement plaster & covering
  • The usage of an iron door with 20” guage Iron sheet
  • Water storage tank of 200 litres being provided
  • Tiling been done upto a certain level in the bathrooms
  • Provision of a washbasin for proper handwashing

The project is being implemented by the RDO Society under the guidance of the Zila Parishad. The parameters on which the agency was evaluated included prior experience in the sector, technical expertise, competency to complete task within project timeframe etc.

The role of the chosen agency was as follows:

  • Work with the Gram Panchayat to draw up plans for demand generation and ensure speedy construction as per the required technical specifications
  • Provide regular information/reports etc to all stakeholders so that the project could be adequately monitored.
  • Designing and Distribution of IEC Materials: to develop IEC materials like, posters, wall paintings, brochure etc which would be circulated amongst school children and community members. The agency also would use the Internationally Awarded Film on Sanitation ‘Let’s Make it Right’ to effectively communicate the message of sanitation across the community.
  • Ensure interventions at community level, through ‘triggering’ -a specific tool which has been advocated by many agencies working in the field of sanitation that aims at generating feeling among the target audience towards the “Need of Sanitation”.
  • Identify members of and establish a ‘Village WATSAN committee’ that will be responsible for steering the village ODF drive that includes visiting existing areas of open defecation, designing a map of the village and highlighting how open defection is affecting the hygiene condition of the village etc

In another major value addition, the establishment of a Rural Sanitary Mart (RSM) was also faciltated. The chosen agency was asked to set aside a revolving fund which was utilized for aggregating the demands of sanitary items (needed for the construction and maintenance of household toilets). The agency facilitated the establishment of a small unit which can manufacture items like Bricks, pit covers etc.

This was particularly important in Barmer as items such as pipes, doors, paint, cover Slab for the pit etc were not easily available in rural shops and attempting to purchase them individually from the open market increases the cost of these items considerably besides slowing down construction.

Results of first Phase and Change in Strategy

 The first phase of the project till mid 2016 saw as many as 7000 toilets being constructed. The utilization was a shade over 40 percent, much higher than in many other parts of the country. Nevertheless, there were a few areas of improvement that were identified:

  • Firstly, the project was spread thinly over a number of Gram Panchayats /Villages meaning that while the geographical coverage was noteworthy, measuring and monitoring outcomes was not easy; and nor was it easy to ensure utilization through demand generation activities due to the distances involved (especially as the Barmer district is a very large one-over 28,000 sq kms).
  • Attrition rate among local Masons was high
  • Inclination towards non contribution by the beneficiary
  • Timely release of payments by the Government was an issue
  • Implementing agency had not motivation to drive utlisation since payments were linked to construction, not actual usage of the toilets
  • Not much interest from the Government, whose representatives did not participate in community meetings. The participation of the sarpanches also was not solicited by the Government; the sarpanches in turn felt pushed

Accordingly, after an internal review in July 2016, while recognizing and commending the constructing of ~7000 toilets by that time, we decided to make a few changes in the strategy. This encompassed the following:

  • The selection of Gram Pachayat’s where we would implement the new strategy was to be carefully done. One of the prime considerations was to ensure adequate water availability, as in a water scare area (relevant to the Barmer district, which is part of the Thar desert), the usage of household toilets was likely to be low
  • We would focus on fewer Gram Panchayats with an aim to make them Open Defecation Free (ODF). A smaller geographical spread would help us to concentrate our activities towards ensuring maximum usage of constructed toilets as we could undertake more intensive and regular awareness generation drives
  • It was also seen that usage of toilets was much higher where an additional bathroom was provided for people to bathe, wash clothes or utensils etc. Hence the focus would be on construction of these twin facilities
  • Identification, engagement and use of Motivators would be emphasized on, with regular reviews of achievements
  • Sustainability of surveillance Committees is important for ODF hence a dedicated team of people would be used
  • Get children to endorse toilet usage and push their parents towards using toilets-through intensive activities in schools etc including exercises/ games on sanitation with their parents
  • A database of beneficiaries is being established. They are being contacted through tele-callers who regularly emphasise the need to use toilets and to wash one’s hands.
  • In addition to this, a regular SMS campaign is being started towards the same purpose
  • We are also planning a ‘toilet beauty Contest’ wherein 1-2 families would get rewarded for the best used and maintained toilet every month.
  • In Schools Exercise/Games on Sanitation with Parents will be organized to establish the importance of toilet usage.
  • Planting of trees considered sacred in areas of Open defecation.

More importantly, the whole incentive scheme has been changed towards utilizing usage of toilets rather than just construction. This incentive is to be provided to all members in the value chain-the beneficiary so that he uses the toilet in his home, the Gram Panchayat and sarpanches to encourage the community to use toilets and the implementing agency RDO.


The results of the new strategy have been encouraging so far. Outreach activities have been held in several schools; several Panchayat meetings and workshops have taken place with wider participation from various stakeholders. The key points to note are as follows:

  • In some cases, beneficiaries have really been keen to get toilets. Besides the contribution of others, they have put in their own funds-sometimes even over INR 30,000 to get toilets in their houses
  • Much better support from sarpanches and local leaders
  • Many human-centric stories have been noted and have received widespread press coverage in Barmer
  • Increased utilization of toilets based on empirical data
  • Appreciation from District Administration and faster support in terms of participation

The success of the new strategy has been widely reported and was featured extensively in both the regional and national press, including by the Times of India, the Hindustan Times etc. It is serving as a model for implementation for other corporate and agencies and Case Studies pertaining to this strategy presented across the world at a number of international conferences.

About the Author

Sidharth Balakrishna is Director, Manthan Advisors and heads their Sustainability practice. He led the Sanitation initiative and was responsible for changing the Strategy described in the article above.

He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta and an Economics degree from the Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), Delhi University and has ~13 years of experience in the energy and infrastructure sectors; and has worked with Cairn India and British Gas in the Strategy function, besides being a Strategy Consultant with Accenture and KPMG.  His experience includes advising clients on new country entry strategies, policy and regulatory affairs, Mergers & Acquisitions, growth and diversification etc.

He has also led a number of social development initiatives in the field of renewable energy, Water and Sanitation, Vocational training etc. This includes leading an initiative to establish ~350 safe drinking water units in the Barmer district of Rajasthan, which is perhaps the largest CSR water initiative in the world impacting over a million people, a project that has won several national awards.

He has authored five books and is a Visiting Faculty at a number of management institutes in India including the IIMs. He has presented at a number of international fora in the past on Water and Sanitation, including at London, Myanmar, Muscat, Mexico City, Yangon, Mozambique, New Delhi, Mumbai etc.

He can be contacted at



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s