By: Prapanna Lahiri
In the annual customary speech from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort in Delhi, Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi, India’s 15th Prime Minister on August 15, 2014 announced a nation wide programme, christened Swach Bharat Abhiyan (translated into English it reads Clean India Campaign) as a tribute to the dream of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi for a clean India. Gandhi in his days was fiercely aware of the pathetic situation in rural India and emphasised in no uncertain terms his concern for cleanliness and sanitation as integral part of living. Nothing emphasises his passion on the issue of cleanliness than his words “Sanitation is more important than Independence”. Earlier, in his presidential address to the Parliament on June 9, 2014 President Pranab Mukherjee said, “We must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage. For ensuring hygiene, waste management and sanitation across the nation a “Swachh Bharat Mission” will be launched. This will be our tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2019.
Early in the morning, on October 2, 2014, marking the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Modi visited Rajghat, the memorial to the Father of the Nation and then proceeded to Valmiki Basti, a housing colony in the capital that houses sanitation workers. The Prime Minister took a broom himself and swept a pavement at this colony in a symbolic start to the cleanliness drive before him formally launching at Rajpath in the capital, the mega nationwide ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India drive) that aims at a cleaner country in the next five years. On his way, the Prime Minister also made a surprise stop at a police station at the Mandir Marg, in the heart of the capital to check on its cleanliness. There were no officers present at the police station as ironically all of them had been deputed for the PM’s visit to the area. Shri Modi cleaned the police station and impressed on the policemen present there about the importance of cleanliness. He also offered prayers at a temple and visited a house that Mahatma Gandhi lived in. At the India Gate on Rajpath he led a cleanliness pledge which 30 lakh government employees across the country joined. Exhorting the people to clean every corner of the country Modi rued, “Today is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhiji and Lal Bahadur Shastriji. We have gained freedom under leadership of Gandhiji, but his dream of clean India is still unfulfilled.” He encouraged people by pushing Indians into believing that they can certainly clean the streets and roads when they could reach Mars at a minimal cost. Moving above politics he humbly acknowledged the role of all those who worked for this programme earlier even though they must have been in different forms and with different names so long the objective was to ensure a clean India. In his speech on the occasion, Mr Modi also invited nine people he named, to join the cleanliness drive and requested each of them to enlist nine more into the initiative to make it viral. Among those invited to take up the challenge were Goa governor, Mridula Sinha, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Congress parliamentarian and former union minister Shashi Tharoor, actors Kamal Haasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan, industrialist Anil Ambani and the team of popular TV serial Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma. Actor Aamir Khan was among those who also joined the PM for the event. He flagged off a walkathon at Rajpath and the people were surprised seeing him not merely taking a token few steps, but marching with the participants till the residence of former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, nearly 800 metres away, before he got onto his car. Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, usually a public holiday was ordered by the Prime Minister to be made a full working day in 2014 for government employees. He had instructed bureaucrats and ministers to lead their departments in cleaning offices, including toilets on the day.
The following are the hard facts about the state of sanitation and cleanliness in the country –
- Half of India’s population still practise open defecation – putting them at risk of cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid as per a United Nations report.
- India was losing 6.4 percent of GDP annually because of diseases and deaths caused by poor access to sanitation according to a World Bank report of 2006.
- A Water Aid research says about 16 million Indians a year gain access to a basic toilet. This has to increase to more than 100 million a year if the whole population is to have a toilet by 2019.
- Towns and cities in India are littered with garbage resulting from massive urban migration, poor civic planning and inadequate waste disposal systems with rivers and lakes getting polluted with sewage and industrial effluents.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ was described as “beyond politics” and “inspired by patriotism”. The programme broadly envisages:
- Elimination of open defecation
- Every household will have a toilet by 2019
- Conversion of unsanitary toilets to flush toilets
- Eradication of manual scavenging
- 100% collection and scientific processing/disposal/ recycling of Municipal Solid Waste
- Bringing about a behavioural change in people regarding healthy sanitation practices.
- Awareness generation among the citizens about sanitation and its linkages with public health
- Strengthening of urban local bodies to design, execute and operate systems
- Creation of environment that enables private sector to participate in Capital Expenditure and Operation & Maintenance (O&M) costs
- Spreading awareness in urban slums and villages by putting on street plays about rubbish disposal, handing out leaflets about washing hands and even giving out broomsticks to members of the public.
- Spreading awareness by campaigns by civil society organisations and companies in urban slums and villages by putting on street plays about rubbish disposal, handing out leaflets about washing hands and even giving out broomsticks to members of the public.
There are silver linings which make us optimistic about the campaign. The campaign has lived on and would remain alive and kicking with the determined Prime Minister as the nation’s conscience keeper. Awareness is the key and every citizen has to do his or her bit to make it succeed. Industry chamber CII has announced it would mobilise its members to build 10,000 toilets across the country by 2015-16. Earlier a number of companies including Tata Consultancy Services and Bharti Foundation, an arm of Bharti Enterprises had pledged a total of Rs 300 crore each to build toilets in schools. Let the campaign succeed and let India shine clean to realise the dream of the Father of the Nation.