Hygiene mission with showstopper Vidya

Patna, Nov. 5: Vidya Balan will be in Bihar later this month to help clean up the dirty picture the state portrays.

The actress is the brand ambassador of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, an ambitious campaign of the Union rural development and drinking water and sanitation ministries to promote not-so-glamorous issues like sanitation and hygiene.

The Union government had announced earlier this year its goal to end open-defecation in the country within 10 years. More than half the households in India still don't have toilet facilities and the families have to defecate in the open. In Bihar, around 70 per cent households are without toilets.

As part of the mission, the ministry launched a travelling roadshow on October 5 to take the campaign across India. The yatra started at the Gandhi ashram at Sevagram in Wardha (Maharashtra) and, after travelling 2,000km across places like Indore, Gwalior and Kota, will end at Bettiah in West Champaran, where the Mahatma launched his Satyagraha movement.

Gandhi, whose mantra was "cleanliness is next to godliness", had laid the foundation for a rural sanitation movement by calling for the liberation of scavengers and speaking up for public hygiene across the country. Even after 65 years of Independence, open defecation leads to the death of many children from preventable diarrhoea.

Ever since becoming the face of the campaign a couple of months ago, Vidya has been appearing in radio and television advertisements urging villagers to use toilets. In one of the advertisements, the actress, known for her bold roles, notes that brides in India are too shy to lift their veils, leave alone defecate in the open.

West Champaran district magistrate Sridhar Chiruvolu confirmed the visit of Vidya. "Yes, I have got official confirmation about the visit of Vidya Balan and Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. They are coming to Bettiah to conclude the sanitation campaign launched by the central government," he said.

Chiruvolu said the actress is expected to be in Bettiah, 210km northeast of Patna, either on November 17 or 18. "It is a four-day campaign from November 16-19 for which several programmes have been lined up," he said. "The main function is scheduled for November 17 and 18 when nukkad nataks (road theatres), roadshows and a photo-exhibition will be held. Stalls will also be put up with information on sanitation. We are targeting school and college students and want to make them aware about the issue."

Chief minister Nitish Kumar is also expected to join the campaign once he returns from his Pakistan tour on November 16.

The DM said Vidya would add a dash of glamour to the campaign. "The involvement of a Bollywood actress will surely have an impact," he added.

Public health and engineering department minister Chandra Mohan Rai said the state government was serious about improving sanitation conditions. "My department is quite serious about the issue and we are trying our best to deal with it by constructing toilets in the blocks and through panchayats. We will achieve the target soon," he said.

An official in the department said that under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, 42 lakh toilets have so far been constructed in the state over the past two years at a cost of Rs 1.38 crore.