It’s now 4 years since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi espoused the dream of a Swachh Bharat during his 1st Independence Day speech. “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019,” said the PM as he launched the Swachh Bharat Mission. On 2nd October the same year, the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched throughout length and breadth of the country as a national movement. After the initial dust and noise and just when we as common citizen almost forgot about the mission, it was back in news recently. All for the wrong reasons.
This time over a set of hoardings which were put by the Railways ministry in Delhi Railway station to educate people about the need to pick up trash and use dustbins. Meant to promote the Swachh Bharat drive, the hoardings showcased apes evolving into cleanliness conscious humans leading up to Dalit icon Dr. Ambedkar using a garbage bin. Enough for the most productive factory in the country today namely the ‘Outrage factory” to go over drive on social media to insinuate Railways and the Government of lampooning Ambedkar! To be fair, the campaign also used other icons like Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi and even the latest craze in town – Baahubali in the same context. The hoardings have been pulled down since then. A classic example of how in India we routinely miss the woods for the trees and chase wrong priorities. Instead of an outpouring against this, probably an assessment of how the programme is working and coming up with ideas to make it work could have done Ambedkar proud and the PM happy.
On the eve of the Prime Minister’s next I-Day Speech for which he is crowdsourcing thoughts, I would like to look at how the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has fared so far. First up, there have been many positives since the campaign kicked off:
- The overall sanitation coverage in the country as per reports has increased.
- Few states have become “Open Defecation Free” – a clear target the Prime Minster outlined of making the entire country “Open Defecation Free” by 2019.
- Toilets are being constructed in towns, villages and even in cities. Even in Navi Mumbai I have seen a few E – toilets which have sprung up along the highways since the campaign started.
- Dustbins have been placed in many places though they may not be sufficient.
- I hear that in Varanasi the Ghats have been cleaned and they are spic and span now thanks to the efforts of an individual – Temsutula. Similarly in Mumbai, different Citizen’s Movements have taken up cleaning of the Versova Beach and now other beaches. I understand that the Centre has picked the Versova Volunteer model for cleaning up many beaches across the country.
- We frequently see from the Railway minister’s twitter handle pictures of many “Super Clean” Railway stations from across the country.
So far so good. But just as I suspected, while the Prime Minister’s initiative made cleanliness part of our country’s discourse, it has not been into our conscience. In Mumbai, the notorious paan spitting out in the open has not stopped nor it hasn’t come down even. In my own office building, which got a new coat of exterior paint few months ago, one cannot miss the red splash of paan juice in the corners of stair cases when you decide to take the stairs down. Or for that matter, endless cigarette butts right under the “No Smoking” sign. Banana peels are back near the roadside corner shops. Sights of garbage overflowing onto the street from the common garbage bins and the overbearing stench of the same are regular now. Empty packs of Frooti, Lays chips and the like lay strewn all over the place where people gather for leisure and this is from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
If Swachh Bharat movement is about cleaning and cleaning alone, I would admit that it is probably beginning to work. But if you look at the movement as a mission to “Reduce” cleaning in the first place then it is tottering.
If one looks at Japan, (a country, you could say, that suffers from a neurotic disorder of maintaining cleanliness) for pointers, it is interesting. Strange as it may sound – they have fewer dustbins in public places. The underlying thought being – “Why litter in the 1st place?” Of course where they have bins, it will be a dozen of bins in rainbow colours to separate different types! More importantly, the need to clean your surroundings is ingrained as part of school education. I’m told that in Japanese schools there are no Janitors. Instead school children are taught and encouraged to do cleaning themselves. Thereby an important lesson is indoctrinated which is “If you don’t want to clean, don’t litter!!!” Tidiness in Japan is not a result of billions of Yen spent on cleaners, dust bins or Clean Japan campaigns. It’s due to people following one fundamental principle – “Don’t throw garbage in the open”!
Back to our country, it is clear that any amount of Swachh Bharat Gyan cannot make the present and older generations to make an attempt to stop littering in the open. Our hope only is with the next generations. May be we need to follow the Japanese model of moulding our children early by making them clean their surroundings at home and school daily. So that they understand the premise that if they don’t litter they don’t have to clean. In my earlier posts on this (read here), I had mentioned that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not about cleaning but to cease the need for cleaning. Well, in order for the Swachh Bharat Dream to come true, let the next generation actually do some cleaning. Time for a new slogan – “Mera Swachh Bharat Mahan”!!!