Mon, Oct 24, 2016 | updated 07:35 PM IST

Changing scenario at Pandharpur, the abode of Lord Vitthal

Updated: Jul 10, 2016 08:47 IST

By Aakash Kumar

Pandharpur (Maharashtra), July 10 (ANI): The temple city of Pandharpur in Maharashtra's Solapur district is popularly known as the abode of Vitthal, the seventh avatar of Lord Krishna.

This small town, having a population of approximately 1.5 million, attracts tourists and Hindu devotees from all over the country during the major Yatra in the month of Ashadh (June-July).

However, this town like many other places of the nation was suffering from the curse of open defecation. To add to this, the menace of manual scavenging had spoiled the beauty of this religious town.

However, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Swachh Bharat' campaign, things have changed drastically. Taking forward the Prime Minister's ambitious 'Clean India' campaign, Sulabh International has not only tried to remove the problem of open defecation but has also brought a 'healthy and hygienic' smile on the face of the people here.

Situated on the banks of the Bhima river, this town will very soon have the world's biggest toilet facility to cater to the everyday needs of the pilgrims, who throng to this place to seek blessings of the local presiding deities.

The NGO has constructed a cluster of eight mega toilet complexes comprising of at least 1,417 toilet units in the temple's vicinity and with the opening of 15 more complexes, total 2,858 toilet units would be constructed here.

Earlier, the Chinese city of Chongqing held the record for the same, with around 1,000 toilet units.

Naveen Kumar Jha, a worker at one of the Sulabh toilet complexes located in the vicinity of the Vitthal Temple, said these toilet complexes have completely changed the scenario of the town.

"The place where this toilet complex is built used to be a barren land with locals and pilgrims defecating in open, thus inviting many vector-borne diseases," he told ANI.

He also said there is a monthly pass system, which can be used by the local residents.

"The locals of this place are provided a monthly pass of Rs. 10. In that pass, all the members of a particular family can use the facilities here for a month. Till now, there are around 800 families which are using this pass," he said with a feeling of satisfaction in his eyes.

Naveen, who hails from a village near Samastipur district in Bihar, asserted that he had been working with the NGO from the last 15 years and feels very happy to do social service and help the people.

Ayub Younis, one of the locals, narrated about the ordeal that they had to witness when there were no such complexes.

"We were forced to defecate in open as there were no toilets. Even the pilgrims, who used to come for the Yatra, used to defecate in open. As a result, this beautiful town was losing its charm," he said.

"However, now the situation has completely changed. With proper sanitation facilities, not only the locals are benefitted but also the 'warkaries' (pilgrims). The tourism has increased significantly with the building of toilet complexes," he added.

One of the local females said the construction of Sulabh toilet complexes has now given them a sense of pride and respect.

Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of the Sulabh International, feels satisfied that the initiative on which he has been working on since 1968 is now paying off.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started a very good initiative. It is because of his initiative that now even children are forcing their parents in their villages and towns to built toilets in their houses," he said.

He feels that his organization is working as a bridge between Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Modi.

"Sulabh is working as a setu (bridge) between Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Modi. As Lord Rama required the setu to reach Lanka and kill Ravan, the same way Sulabh is working as a bridge to kill Ravan of open defecation," he added.

Pathak believes that the menace of open defecation could be removed only when there are toilets.

"If there are no toilets, where will they defecate? All public places, restaurants, houses, etc should have toilets," he said.

"There has been a 5,000-year-old tradition where it was said that toilets should not be built inside the houses. So, it's not only about practice, it's about culture and culture takes time to change. Just building toilets is not going to solve the problems because open defecation is a practice acquired from the time we learn how to walk. When we grow up in such an environment, how will we be able to get ourselves detached from it?" he added.

According to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report, even today more than half a billion people in our nation still 'continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity and privacy.'

The Sulabh founder believes that funds would be needed and nearly 12 crore toilets are required to be built by 2019 to make India open defecation free by that period as has been visualized by Prime Minister Modi. (ANI)