Why Swachh Bharat is not working on the ground

Modi government says six crore toilets have been built since 2014. The reality is that a majority of these toilets exist only on paper.

 |  5-minute read |   17-10-2018
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Charity begins at home and so does cleanliness, goes the saying. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took it upon himself to start a Swachh Bharat movement in India (which was a thinly veiled repackaging of the UPA’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan). Unfortunately, this movement, much like the rest of the PM’s initiatives including Make in India, Digital India, and Startup India, has turned out to be a farce.

Let’s look at some ground realities.

nirmal-690_101618045819.jpgVaranasi is among the dirtiest cities in the country. (Source: Reuters)

First, we start with PM Modi’s constituency Varanasi. A nationwide survey Swachh Survekshan, conducted by the Urban Development Ministry in 2017, has ranked Varanasi among the dirtiest cities in the country. Varanasi is also one of the most polluted cities in the country, and often appears at the top of the most polluted Indian cities lists.

When PM Modi was elected from Varanasi, he promised to turn the city into a smart city like Kyoto. In fact, on his first official visit to Japan, PM Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinz┼Ź Abe announced the Kyoto-Varanasi Partner City Agreement. Four years down the line, this ‘transformation’ remains a distant dream. The central government released Rs 21.21 crore under the Swachh Bharat Mission for Varanasi but the desired result is not visible on the ground.

As many as 83 public urinals in different localities in the city lack a drainage system and water supply. About 50 families of Sonkar Basti in Shivpur area are forced to defecate in the open in the absence of toilets. Local MLA Ravindra Jaiswal claims that he had given the list of beneficiaries to the Varanasi Municipal Corporation for toilet construction. As of 2017, only 6,821 individual toilets have been constructed against the target of 9,702 toilets under the Swachh Bharat mission.

The Ganga holds a very important place in the hearts of Indians, especially the residents of Varanasi. Before elections, PM Modi had made tall promises about cleaning the Ganga, but the situation today is starkly different. While Rs 20,000 crore was allocated by the Centre for the National Clean Ganga Mission for 193 projects, only Rs 4,254 crore has been used till March 2018.

PM Modi calls Ganga his Maa, but even after environmentalist GD Agarwal wrote three letters and fasted for 110 days to save the river, he did not bother to address the issue and paid no heed to Agarwal who eventually died fighting for a clean Ganga and the enactment of Ganga Protection Management Act.

ganga-690_101618050450.jpgDespite the tall claims, Ganga remains as dirty as ever. (Source: Reuters)

In his third letter, Mr Agarwal mentions that while, PM Modi created a separate ministry for all work related to the Ganga, in the past four years no action undertaken by the government has helped the cause. Instead, Mr Agarwal wrote, only the corporate sector and business houses were gaining at the cost of the river.

Samples collected from Varanasi’s Malviya Bridge showed bacterial contamination almost 20 times higher than permissible limits. Faecal Coliform presence was recorded at 49,000/100ml in 2017, up from 31,000 in 2014, a fact government acknowledged in an RTI response.

What does it say about the reality of Swachh Bharat when the government spends Rs 5,000 crore on PM Modi’s self-promotion, much more than the amount it spends to clean Maa Ganga?

Household toilet availability improved from 41.93 per cent to 63.98 per cent in 2017, and Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Kerala have achieved 100 per cent open-defecation free status, data from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation shows (as of May 2017).

However, almost all progress reported by the ministry has not been verified independently. The World Bank is holding back a $1.5 billion loan it had promised for Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin because India has not fulfilled the conditions for conducting and announcing results of an Independent Verification Survey.

It has rated the overall implementation progress of the programme as moderately unsatisfactory. Foreign bodies pulling out funds due to sub-standard work seems to be a trend since 2014, such as Japan stopping funds for another of PM Modi’s flagship bullet train project.

According to the government, six crore toilets have been built since 2014. The reality, however, is that a majority of these toilets exist only on paper. While Swachh Bharat Mission guidelines clearly advocate a yearly, country-wide, independent third-party assessment of the sanitation status of rural areas, there hasn’t been a single, independent monitoring programme conducted so far. If the government is sure that the official number of toilets constructed is genuine, why is it resisting an independent assessment?

About 51.6 per cent households across the country did not use an improved sanitation facility — a system that separates human excreta from human contact — between January 2015 and December 2016. This lack of basic hygiene can lead to a plethora of diseases and also render toilets unusable. Many villagers say that they have been forced to build these barely usable toilets under threat that they would be fined heavily or deprived of government benefits. Most villagers use these toilets as store rooms and makeshift kitchens rather than the purpose they were meant for.

Finally, let’s look at the inhumane practice of manual scavenging.

manual-scavenger-690_101618050057.jpgCan there really be a Swachh Bharat when this dehumanising practice is regularly followed in India? (Source: Reuters)

Although the practice is officially banned in India, since January 2017, one person on average has died every five days while cleaning sewers and septic tanks across the country, according to numbers collated by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis.

Can there really be a Swachh Bharat when this dehumanising practice is regularly followed in India?

In August 2018, five workers died while cleaning a sewer tank in an apartment complex in the west Delhi. The men had no protective gear, and were untrained. How can the government allow such blatant violations of human rights, that too in the national capital?

Swachh Bharat may have started off as an idea to bring social change, but in the end, it has become nothing more than lip service and a promotional vehicle for the BJP which it is exploiting to no end.

Also read: Another swachhata drive: Why India will never become clean as long as it remains semi-feudal


Shama Mohamed Shama Mohamed @drshamamohd

Author is National Media Panelist, Indian National Congress.

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