An Approach to address Water & Sanitation Challenges of Rural India

Toilet and bathing facilities developed by Gram Vikas

Since the turn of this century, Gram Vikas ( has pioneered a holistic development approach named Movement and Action Network for the Transformation of Rural Areas (MANTRA). This approach was designed based on learnings derived from working with rural communities for almost 4 decades. The approach uses “Water and Sanitation” as an entry point for development activities and a medium by which an entire community could come together for an important collective goal that has a lasting impact. The major tenets of this model include 100% inclusion of the target communities, creation of self managed community institutions, focus on ensuring social and gender equity, cost sharing and sustainability of the interventions implemented.

With 650 million people who lack toilet facilities in India, the launch of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” on 2nd October, 2014 is timely and systematically intends to address the gigantic problem of sanitation in the country. However, an aspect that has largely been missing from the discussions about the campaign pertains to how well the concerns regarding social inclusion will be addressed by the programme. With social inclusion at the core of its values, Gram Vikas has built a scalable and adaptable model which could be replicated across the country. Gram Vikas has already impacted more than 1200 villages covering over 75,000 families and 400,000 individuals. Gram Vikas’ MANTRA model has been implemented in 24 districts of Odisha and piloted in 6 other states.

Our village is better than the town. We have 24*7 piped water supplies to all families, without exception. Every family has its own toilet and bathing room as well. When we seek marriage alliances, our daughters ask us – ‘would there be similar facilities there as well?’” excitedly shares Lalita Malik, one of Gram Vikas beneficiaries from Tamana village in Ganjam district, Odisha, when asked what changes they see in their lives in the recent years.

Challenging the notion that rural masses need only low-cost (almost always taken to mean low-quality) solutions to their problems, Gram Vikas is systematically eroding the feeling of helplessness that has enveloped the minds of the rural poor due to their inability to even attain a basic level of quality of life. Gram Vikas’ MANTRA approach is holistic and hence involves a deliberate cross cutting across several verticals of intervention. This involves developing institutional mechanisms such as consensus building, creating corpus fund, developing village executive committee and designing maintenance & sustainability plan. The approach enables marginalised sections of the community to sit together with the more powerful sections and negotiate issues regarding the village on equitable terms.

By treating rural communities as partners, Gram Vikas attempts to address their critical needs of safe drinking water, health, sanitation, housing, livelihoods and alternate energy.  Shubhasis Pattnaik, Executive Director – Gram Vikas feels that Gram Vikas’ biggest achievement has been in influencing the behavioural change in the rural communities. He further adds that Gram Vikas’ proven processes, knowledge base and methodologies have matured over the last 35 years and have been instrumental in catalysing sustainable Rural Development.  

Most recently as the Socio Technical partner to OSDMA (Odisha State Disaster Management Authority), Gram Vikas is facilitating one of the largest Rural Disaster Resilient Housing project in the world. As a part of the post “Phailin” (cyclone) reconstruction efforts, the project envisages development of 22,000 plus houses which are being built for the beneficiaries of the cyclone affected areas of Odisha. Partly funded by the World Bank, the Odisha Disaster Recovery Project (ODRP) aims to construct disaster resilient houses via the Owner Driven Construction of Houses (ODCH) method over a period of 2 years across 150+ settlements, most of which are new habitations. The planned habitations are envisaged to be model villages with all amenities that the communities will be empowered to self manage and be proud of.

About Gram Vikas:

Gram Vikas is a rural development non-profit organization working towards sustainable improvement in the quality of life of poor and marginalized people. It has been actively involved in development of rural communities since 1979. With a team of around 460 full time staff and thousands of volunteers in the villages, Gram Vikas’ interventions are directed at raising critical consciousness and energising whole villages.

For more information contact Gram Vikas via telephone: +91-674-2596366; or email:; website:

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