It will be a
stock-taking exercise for the government when India celebrates Mahatma
Gandhi’s birth anniversary this year as it will also mark the completion
of three years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship cleanliness
drive – the “Swacch Bharat Abhiyan”. The Modi government has set an
ambitious target of Open Defecation Free India by October 2, 2019 when
Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary will be celebrated.
Given the giant strides made in a short span of three years, the
government seems headed towards meeting the 2019 deadline of providing
toilets to every household. Under the Swachh Bharat campaign, more than
4.90 crore toilets have already been constructed since October 2, 2014.
According to Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, more than 2.44
lakh villages have been declared open defecation free and 203 open
defecation free districts as on September 24, 2017. What makes the
programme noteworthy is that several public sector as well as private
institutions have joined hands with the government to make it a grand
success. Many business houses have adopted several villages in this
connection under the Corporate Social Responsibility. It is no
surprising then that the country’s sanitation coverage has leapfrogged
to more than 68 per cent compared to just 38 per cent in 2012. But still
much more needs to be done.
Keeping this in view, the government has launched a fortnight long 'Swachhta
Hi Seva' (Cleanliness is Service) campaign which will culminate on
Gandhi Jayanti next month. Under the campaign, several programmes have
been planned to give a fillip to the nationwide cleanliness drive. The
purpose is to reinvigorate the “Swacch Bharat Abhiyan” which was started
as a national movement three years ago. The Ministry of Drinking Water
and Sanitation, which is spearheading the campaign, has been joined by
various other ministries, government departments and non-government
organizations to spread the awareness of cleanliness.
October 2, 2014 will go down in the history books as the biggest
campaign for “Swachh Bharat” when Prime Minister Modi himself wielded a
broom and swept the dirty streets of New Delhi. The people responded to
his clarion call to join him in this endeavour to give a fitting tribute
to Mahatma Gandhi, who wanted to make sanitation a priority for India
more than a century ago. The campaign aims to end the wide-spread
practice of open defecation, build more toilets and improve waste
management, among other goals.
While underlining the importance of cleanliness, the Prime Minister has
often said that the idea of Swachh Bharat has nothing to do with
politics, as it is inspired by patriotism. One is reminded of Gandhi’s
saying that “Sanitation is more important than independence.”
While the father of the nation championed the cause of self-service in
cleanliness and end the despicable practice of untouchability, the
movement faltered after independence. Though several programmes were
undertaken since then by several governments, it is a sad commentary
that the twin issues of sanitation and untouchability continue to haunt
the country even almost 70 years after Bapu’s death.
Poor sanitation leads to several health-related diseases and untimely
deaths. A charity organization “WaterAid” had painted a grim situation
in one of its reports in 2014. It had then reported that less than a
third of India’s 1.2 billion people had access to sanitation and more
than 186,000 children under the age of five used to die every year from
diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. It has
its economic pitfalls also. It is estimated that the country is losing
6.4 percent of GDP annually as poor access to sanitation results in
diseases and deaths. But all that is set to change now as various
government agencies are working on war footing to meet the challenge.
Quoting the World Health Organization, the Prime Minister has said in
the past that an average of Rs. 6,500 per person is lost in India due to
lack of cleanliness and hygiene. He said Swachh Bharat would therefore
make a significant impact on public health, and in safeguarding income
of the poor, ultimately contributing to the national economy. He said
sanitation should not be seen as a political tool, but should only be
connected to patriotism (rashtrabhakti) and commitment to public health.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which carried out a survey to
estimate the cost of benefits of the Swachh Bharat Mission, has in a
recent report said one rupee invested in improving sanitation helps save
Rs 4.30. It said that each household could save Rs. 50,000 every year if
there is Open Defecation Free society because the medical costs will
come down, the value of time savings and the value of mortality will be
averted. It also said the benefits are highest for the poorest quantile
of the population.
But to make the programme successful, the local bodies and state
governments will need to redouble efforts to create more awareness and
educate people to change their age-old attitudes towards hygiene and
purity. Despite best of governmental efforts, a large number of people
in the hinterland still believe that it is unclean to defecate inside.
The government and business houses may construct toilets, but one needs
to draw people out from the open fields to the confines of a toilet in
order to realize the full health and economic benefits of sanitation.
There is an urgent need to educate people through awareness campaigns to
help eliminate such negative notions. The success of the programme will
be largely dependent on people’s participation. It is therefore
imperative that people rise to the occasion to make India clean and