In his 1st Independence Day speech post becoming the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced a dramatic and by any stretch of imagination a very ambitious goal of turning India into a ‘Swachh Bharat’ by 2019 – the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. As far as ambitious goals for nations go, Kennedy’s – “before the decade is out of landing a man in moon and returning safely back to earth” goal set in 1961 usually comes up on top. But I would say that Modi’s goal of turning India into a Swachh Bharat is far more ambitious and audacious. Unlike ‘Project Apollo’ which only required commitment of huge resources and a focused effort from NASA, ‘Project Swachh Bharat’ required focused effort from Govt., funds, and more importantly a fundamental change in attitude of people. That too that of millions.
2nd Oct, 2016 – Gandhi Jayanti marked the completion of the 2nd year of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in India. As one who was and is excited about this project right from when it was announced and is keen to see it succeed, I make a conscious attempt see how the program is progressing. So not surprising that this is my 4th post on this topic!!! And based on what I read and see at least in Mumbai where I live, I can say that while the Govt. is sincerely working to make it work, we as people are failing the same.
In 2014, after the initial months of ‘broom wielding photo ops” and “appointing Swachh Bharat Ambassadors” I guess that the Govt. realized that more serious thrust is required. The impressive Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin & Urban websites give updates of the programs, activities and progress on real time basis. The Swachh Bharat Mission dashboard tells us the “Before” 2014 Oct. and “After” situation on many milestones like Household toilets built, Community toilets built, Open Defecation free villages,..,… And the site also shows the progress at a state level thereby inducing competition among states to achieve their respective milestones. And the Govt. introduced ranking of cities and towns in terms of how clean they are. The civil society picked up cue from the Prime Minister and in the first year I recall that every week there were Swachhata activities in nearby parks, community areas,…
2 years down the line, as I observe what is happening, it’s very clear that the Government has turned its focus on “Capacity building” – pouring money on building toilets and other sanitation related infrastructure as can be seen in the dashboard. Not just in villages. Even in cities like Mumbai, I am seeing “E-toilets” which have sprung up on highways. And I hope the Govt. is putting to good use the 0.5% Swachh Bharat Cess it is collecting from us.
The civil society comprising of NGO’s, Action groups,… are still carrying out their regular Swachhata activities though not as frequent or as visible as in 2014.
The Municipal administration, I see routinely carrying out cleaning exercises and then painting of walls, road dividers and other assets more frequently than before.
Awareness campaigns involving celebrities goading people to keep our cities clean,… are also quite omnipresent.
Even corporates have pitched in to support the “Cleanliness campaign” some of them expectedly weaving into their product’s marketing strategy.
The missing cog in this wheel is the attitude of the common man. What is happening there? We continue to litter in common places with gay abandon. I don’t see any remorse among people when they throw all kinds of garbage on the roads like wrappers, banana peels, cigarette buds, empty bottles, left over food,…,…! Mumbai which is the so called commercial capital is also the “Spitting” capital of India. Here people take pride in turning their mouths to ‘Pichkaaris’ and spit wherever they are except their own houses. “Painting the town Red” has gotten a different meaning here. The Government could very well launch a new game called “Tukemon Go”. We could sight and catch hell of a lot of “Tukemons” of the real type and not virtual just as we step out of the house. I feel ridiculously bad when I see the freshly painted Yellow-black road dividers smeared with pan tainted Red in roads and highways of Mumbai. Similarly the E-Toilets along the highways have still not prevented many to urinate on the side of the roads in the open! Any amount of cleaning is not going to make a place clean if this kind of atrocities continue.
Ergo, while “Capacity building” is progressing well as I mentioned earlier, “Character building” is lagging behind. And for that we have nobody else than ourselves to blame. As a country it is our collective failure that we put “a clean surrounding” as least in our priorities even now when supposedly the literacy and economic well-being are on the up. A state like Kerala which is high on literacy is also among the cleanest states in the country. However when I see what happens in Mumbai which is a fairly literate metropolis, I have come to the conclusion that literacy has no bearing on Swachhata!! It is one’s attitude towards keeping common places clean which finally matters.
I do feel that by 2019, the Government may very well achieve the targets it set for itself in terms of toilets,…,… but cleanliness may still elude perhaps even till 2050. For Swachh Bharat Mission to succeed while the Government works on Sochalays, “We the people” have to work on our Soch!!! And that Soch is – “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not about cleaning, but ending the need for cleaning”!
Postscript: Heard somewhere “Don’t know if we will become a Swachh Bharat, but we are already a “Cess Bharat”😁😁