On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a mission to clean India’s cities and villages. On the same day it’s Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, is observed in India to mark the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. He is called the “Father of the Nation”. It is one of the three national holidays of the country. “Gandhiji believed that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’. He had stressed on the importance of a disease free and clean body. This is the reason, PM Modi synchronised Gandhi Jayanti with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Three years back when this campaign was launched, it remained only as photo-shoot, media and publicity event; each and every celebrity and politician took the broom in hand, clicked photos posted those on social media. Some got personal mentions from the Prime Minister and some were ignored. The campaign was largely criticised on the grounds that Modi was using it as a platform to gain political mileage by rebranding the existing Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan mission.
Government may announce any number of schemes for the same but implementation of the schemes has to be done by the bureaucracy and police, which have unfortunately become largely corrupt. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched with a vision to keep India clean. People find it very convenient to throw garbage everywhere. But this mission was not just to encourage people to stop littering. It was initiated to encourage people to not only stop littering but also pick all the waste around them. In the months after it was launched, the campaign gained momentum with many celebrities, politicians and academic institutions organising cleanliness drives across the country. Modi nominated nine celebrities, asking them to nominate nine more people to make the initiative go viral. These included Goa Governor Mridula Sinha, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Congress lawmaker and former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, industrialist Anil Ambani, actors Kamal Haasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan and the team of popular TV serial Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. They all did their bit, but more than that they got media publicity and some good will of Modi.
Anyways, this campaign will run till October 2, 2019, aiming to eliminate open defecation by constructing toilets for households and communities. Forget about villages, in metro cities like Mumbai, you will find hundreds of slum residents defecating on local train tracks. If you pass through Mumbai slums, you will find shit across the lane and street because the numbers of toilets are less to fulfil the requirement of residents.
Lack of modern and scientific municipal solid waste management practices is another reason. The scheme was launched to change people’s attitude towards sanitation and create awareness, but this could hardly change their mindset. The campaign paddled into hullabaloo as many politicians were turning it into a mere photo-op; the ministers littered the garbage on a clean pavement so they could clean it. But none of these people ever went to slums or dumping grounds to clean any mess.
Thus, inspite of all odds some good things happened such as, a total of 31.83 lakh toilets were built between April 2014 and January 2015 under this campaign, which is 25.4% of the target for 2014-15. Over the next 5 years, the government plans to invest nearly Rs 2 lakh crore to construct 12 crore toilets across India. But still these toilets are not enough in comparison to the population. Most common, there are no dustbins, so people are left with no choice but to throw the waste in open. If adequate dustbins are placed properly, then the onus lies on us to dump waste in it. Where Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is failing is that people are not provided a place to dump garbage. In a feudal society one keeps one’s house clean, but throws garbage and litter outside. That is why heaps of garbage spread everywhere on the streets of India. Also, in recent decades there has been a mass migration of people from rural to urban areas looking for jobs. These people still have the primitive mindset. They throw litter anywhere, and often ease themselves in open spaces, as they do in the villages. How can this mentality be changed instantly? It will take several decades.
If you visit traditional chawls of Mumbai such as Girgaon and Dadar, having toilet inside the house is considered unclean. Today we talk about constructing toilets in every house. The problem is lack of water. People walk large stretch to fetch drinking water. In such situations how the toilets inside the house would be kept clean? To address such problems, community toilets were built generally at the end of every street. Cleaning with water was still a problem but at least those toilets were cleaned twice a week. These were open dry latrines, not with flushing provisions. You can see many such toilets across Mumbai. While using these toilets you were exposed to all the shit the street could produce. That was the reason of people taking a long walk in the morning and evening and do their business in open fields or near a source of water, at least doing it in the open is certainly cleaner and safer than community toilets.
It is 2017, but still there are people who defecate in open places. It’s very common in city slums and suburban areas but larger in small town or village areas. Indian government is putting every effort to solve this problem but the efforts are not enough. It is, however, a problem of open defecation, an inadequate number of public toilets and a poor maintenance of existing public toilets both by the illiterate population and lethargic local governing bodies.
The United Nations, in a report on water access and sanitation in India released in 2015, said that, 564 million of the country’s people still defecate in the open. The UN estimated that 65,000 tonnes of uncovered, untreated faeces — equal to the weight of around 180 Airbus A380s — were being introduced into the environment in India every single day.
The Swachh Bharat Mission makes it a major objective to completely eliminate open defecation in India. This is an enormous goal and an admirable one, but the mission does not stop there. To succeed, it must, by its deadline in 2019, make rapid progress in fighting some of India’s most stubborn and appalling practices of hygiene and sanitation.
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