It was once the dumping ground for the waste of Kolkata. As the biggest metropolis in east India grew, the dumping of waste had to be moved to another location and shanties came up for migrant workers. Over a period of time, it became a dense population of migrant workers, with most civic services missing.

Once dumping of waste was stopped, homes for the economically weaker sections were built by the local municipality. But the community toilets broke down after some years because of the number of users and lack of cleanliness. This led to the practice of open defecation by the community.

But with the increase in the number of inhabitants, the dysfunctional toilets were soon being used to dump reusable garbage. There was a strong demand for community toilets, especially from women.

Coca-Cola and its partners studied the situation and tried to put together a plan for the community out so that a sustainable model could be put in place for the basic civic services. In 2014, a comprehensive study was carried out to understand the health impact of the unhygienic conditions, quality of drinking water and other issues. Three localities with a large number of migrant workers were identified for the study.

Women from the community collectively decided that they would make their community open defecation free. With active support from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, which oversees the water, electricity and drainage infrastructure, the steps towards change were made easier. With the pay-and-use toilets that are now ready, the community members are headed for a cleaner and healthier tomorrow.

“We feel very good with the change that we have brought about for the community,” Lakshmi Mukherjee explained in her mother tongue, Bengali.

Women are now taking the lead in operating and maintaining the community toilets. A financial mechanism has been worked out so that the community members pay for use of the services, which can be maintained using the money generated.

A little after three years since the change started, the benefits are showing. In the Dhapadhipi locality, for example, at least 300-500 slum dwellers are using the community toilets, cutting down instances of open defecation. Exposure to water-borne diseases has been reduced.

Most of India may not have heard of Dhapadhipi. But it is a change that the community, helped by Coca-Cola and its partners, has brought about, which could show the way to many other similar communities.