Why Swachh Bharat is a priority for Modi

Himadrish Suwan
Himadrish SuwanSep 25, 2017 | 16:54

Why Swachh Bharat is a priority for Modi

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," said Mahatma Gandhi.

This quote of Gandhi's is perhaps one of his most famous proverbs, both in the country and globally. Ironically, while the whole world follows this teaching by Gandhi, his own country has failed to live up to it. We never seem to learn. India accounts for about 90 per cent of the population in South Asia and 59 per cent of the 1.3 billion people still defecate in the open, making it the single-largest contributor to open defecation in the world. Gandhi understood early in his life that the pervasive filth and lack of adequate toilets, needed the same consciousness as was being dedicated towards attainment of swaraj.


Mahatma Gandhi was martyred soon after Independence. The issue of sanitation and cleanliness after Gandhi has received the government's attention though in intervals and has lacked priority.Is anybody really startled that nearly 50 per cent of India's billion-plus people have no access to toilets? Open defecation remains a vital obstacle in achieving global millennium development goals. Even after 70 years of Independence, many Indians continue to relieve themselves in the open and litter in public unhesitatingly. Agree, the nation has failed to extend sanitation facilities, but people must also take responsibility. Change begins at home. And that's why any social movement should involve a combined effort from both the government and the people.

The union government of India appointed the Environmental Hygiene Committee in 1948-49 and a comprehensive plan to provide safe water supply and sanitation to the people was introduced. The committee recommended that 90 per cent of India's population should have water supply and sanitation facilities within a period of 40 years. Thereafter, the National Water Supply and Sanitation Programme was introduced as part of the First Five Year Plan in 1954. But at the end of the Second Five Year Plan it was felt that sanitation was not receiving due importance and it was the lack of education and common participation which were responsible for the failure.


The United Nations declared 1981-1990 as the "International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade". It was during this period that a comprehensive strategy for promoting sanitation in rural areas of India was developed and rural sanitation was made a component of the 20-point programme and was also included under the Minimum Needs Programme (MNP) in 1987.

Unfortunately, the rural sanitation programme could not make much progress even during 1981-91 despite the importance attached to it. A clearer picture emerged after the 1991 census. Only 9.5 per cent of rural families and 63.9 per cent of urban families of the country (excluding Jammu and Kashmir) had toilets.

Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP), a centrally sponsored scheme was launched in 1986. But experiences of CRSP implemented through state governments were not encouraging. The government restructured the existing Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme on April 1, 1999, and launched the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which was community-led and people-centric. The main aim of TSC was construction of sanitary complexes and household latrines; latrines for primary schools, anganwadi, among others.Unfortunately, the TSC failed to produce desired results. The 2011 census showed 31 per cent sanitation coverage in 2011 (up from 22 per cent in 2001), far from the 68 per cent reported by the government. The decade has witnessed progress slowing down and the number of rural households without latrines increasing by 8.3 million.


On April 1, 2012, the Total Sanitation Campaign was renamed as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). The main purpose of the NBA was to escalate sanitation coverage in rural areas to achieve the vision of Nirmal Bharat by 2022. Despite promising change, key issues remained ignored and due to mismanagement of funds, low political primacy and corruption it was doomed to fail.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India's (CAG) report on Total Sanitation Campaign/Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan states that 60.09 per cent Indians defecate in the open, which is the highest in the world.

According to the report Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2012, submitted by UNICEF and WHO, Pakistan and Bangladesh figure higher on the list of countries where sanitation has improved with 34 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively. Among the Asian countries, Sri Lanka topped the list with 94 per cent.

The dream of a Clean India has begun to take shape

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 2014 Independence Day address generated some hope among the people after decades. Modi's commitment towards a Clean India was evident when he prioritised toilets in his Independence Day speech. Modi said that people may laugh at him for talking about toilets and cleanliness from the Red Fort but cleanliness will be the priority for his government.

Modi launched the campaign on the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2, 2014, at Rajghat. The campaign aims to achieve Clean India by October 2, 2019, to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Swachh Bharat aims to address open defecation on war-footing. While launching the biggest-ever cleanliness drive in India, Modi had appealed to every citizen of the country to devote at least 100 hours a year voluntarily towards maintaining cleanliness.

The union government allocated around Rs 2 lakh crore for the next five years in order to make Swachh Bharat a reality by 2019. The entire campaign aims at total elimination of open defecation, constructing public and community toilets, solid waste management, and most importantly, spreading awareness and encouraging people to be cleanliness conscious. The Prime Minister urged that this should be a nationwide people-led campaign, a movement where individuals, corporations, political parties, NGOs, religious groups participate to make it a grand success.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 Independence Day address generated some hope among the people after decades.

One of India's most awe-inspiring personalities was Mahatma Gandhi, who gave the highest importance to cleanliness and believed that it was as important for India to be clean and liveable as it was to be independent.

Gandhi would often take the broom in his own hands to clean places and speak on the importance of hygiene. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was meant to achieve Gandhi ji's dream of a clean India.

Modi himself has taken up cleanliness and sanitation as a priority mission. "Change begins at home". Yes! And that's why Swachh Bharat Abhiyan should be a combined effort of both the government as well as the people. A "collective action" is being taken by many social organisations to clean up and green up their localities and subsequently India. But it will only be a success if each and every Indian contributes his/her best.

Open Defecation Free (ODF) states of India under the Swachh Bharat Mission:

a) Sikkim

b) Himachal Pradesh

c) Kerala

d) Uttarakhand

e) Haryana

i) Mysore was the first city to be declared open defecation free with a population below 5 lakh.

ii) Indore is one of the cities to be declared open defecation free. The municipal corporation has built and repaired 230 urinals, 17 mobile units, 400 modular toilet seats, 13,000 individual household toilet units and 243 community and public toilets.

iii) Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, in March 2017 banned chewing paan, paan masala, gutka and other tobacco products during duty hours in all the government offices to ensure cleanliness in office buildings.

iv) The government conducted Swachh Survekshan-2017 to gauge the progress of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. All cities will participate in this survey and will be ranked on the basis of reports submitted by urban bodies on the progress and performance, citizen's feedback and independent observations by the survey agency.

Nationally, the sanitation coverage has increased from 42 per cent to over 64 per cent in just two-and- a-half years since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Bollywood celebrities, including Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar, and sportspersons have come forward and actively joined the initiative.

It is amazing to note that the government, politicians, celebrities, NGOs, private enterprises are all working together to achieve a common goal. The government has brought together international organisations such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, UNICEF to ensure coordinated and synchronised efforts in one direction.

This is a government initiative, but individuals and the corporate sector have a fundamental role to play. The government has set up the Swachh Bharat Kosh (SBK) as a step to ensure that big and small corporations provide help to the mission by donating funds as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and also attract funds from individual volunteers. The Corporate Affairs Ministry amended Schedule VII of the Companies Act to specify that all contributions towards Swachh Bharat Kosh would be eligible for tax benefits under CSR.Modi has etched out an important role for India globally that seeks to make it a leading power. This is evident in Modi's global outreach for environmental sustainable commitment.

Now the country is in a position of power and when we speak, the world listens.

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates appreciated Modi and his progress with the Swachh Bharat campaign in the country over the years and stated that Narendra Modi made one of the boldest comments on public health.

According to a research conducted by WaterAid India, around 16 million people get access to toilets each year. This number needs to rise and go over 100 million if the entire population is to have access to a basic toilet by 2019.

It is noteworthy that our government has finally realised that without making India "Swachh", we cannot transform it. Enlightenment, as we know, begins from sanitation, as it provides the fundamental bedrock for human well-being.

India has overcome numerous problems. India shed the feudal system to become a constitutional democracy, it moved from being underdeveloped to developing, from slavery to freedom, from discrimination to justice, disparity to coherence, pale to buoyancy, darkness to light and slowly and steadily will become Swachh too.

Last updated: September 25, 2017 | 16:54
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