While just 10 percent of Indian villages comprise full sanitation coverage, the government is committed to handling the issue with both rail and union budgets with special focus to sanitation said Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Monday.
Speaking at an award function organised by Sulabh International, an organisation working for better sanitation in the country, Ramesh said: "It is sad that out of 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country, only 25,000 are "Nirmal" gram panchayats."
"Nirmal" gram status is given by the government of India to those villages which have full sanitation coverage and have completely abolished open defecation.
Ramesh presented the Sulabh Sanitation Award of Rs.5 lakh to Anita Bai Narre, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh who had revolted against the lack of toilets in her in-laws' home and returned to her parents, demanding a clean toilet as the condition for her return.
The government has also made Narre a brand ambassador for its sanitation campaign.
Describing Narre's action as "bold", Ramesh said that the government is aiming to abolish open defecation completely in 10 years, with "special focus on sanitation and clean toilets, in both rail and union budgets."
"The government's target is to ensure that all the village panchayats become Nirmal Gram Panchayats in 10 years," he said.
Claiming that a behavioural change was needed, Ramesh urged that "(the) women have to play a leading role in this social revolution."
Sulabh International founder and social activist Bindeshwar Pathak hailed Narre's action as "brave" and applauded Narre's husband Shivram and journalist Sanjay Shukla who first broke Narre's story.
"So far, the government's sanitation programmes have almost no media coverage except a small ticker on Doordarshan. If Narre's story gets good coverage, the sanitation programmes can get a huge boost," Pathak told IANS.