1 year of watching Swachh Bharat Abhiyan!!!

Yesterday was Oct 2nd. Gandhi Jayanthi. Since last year, the date has acquired another significance. That is of the anniversary of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan a social movement our Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off last year. Since the last few days, Swachata has been dusted again in India. (Pun intended☺️). There has been a slew of activities. The minister released a report card on the progress made since last Oct 2nd. (That a ministry releases a report card itself is a major progress).  A new anthem created by Shankar Ehsaan Loy and written by Prasoon Joshi where Sachin lends his squeaky voice has surfaced. Another one – Banega Swachh India Anthem by the Indian Ocean Group supported by Dettol has been aired and has been viralling since. (The many hands appearing frequently in the video “plug” the brand Dettol smartly ☺️☺️) There was a Safaigiri Summit and Awards nite yesterday organized by the India Today group where for different categories like Cleanest beach town, Cleanest ghat,.. awards were distributed. So on and so forth.

It appeared that the Abhiyan which was flagged off last year with a lot of fanfare was gradually fading away from the collective consciousness of the country. The many brand ambassadors who were nominated, after the initial sweeping photo ops, swept themselves under the carpet and got busy with their regular endorsements. Even the many cleaning drives undertaken by common citizens which were a regular feature on weekends till Feb/Mar gradually weaned. And in general, we Indians continued to exercise our Right to – spitting on the roads/walls, urinating in public places and littering everywhere.  I read some survey which claimed that 71% of respondents felt that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a flop. I had started to lose hope. Ofcourse I was certainly not one to think India will become clean in 1 year. Or not even in 5 years as Prime Minister wanted.

It seems all is not lost though. Behind the external veneer, it seems few positives have happened.

Like from the Govt. side Niti Aayog formed a sub group of State CMs to generate ideas for strengthening the program including ways and means of raising resources. It called for an additional cess on petrol and telecom to fund the program.

Like the Govt. seeking the help of external agencies to rank cities for cleanliness.

Like the Govt. apparently exceeding the target it set for itself for building toilets in the 1st year. I myself saw one E-Toilet suddenly springing up on the Thane Belapur Road near Airoli in Navi Mumbai which was not there before! Kudos!

Like the selfless efforts of some individuals like Temsutala Imsong from Nagaland.  Even the Prime Minister acknowledged the efforts of this girl yesterday for tirelessly working towards cleaning up few ghats in his constituency Varanasi.  See the difference she and her team has made here. Mission Prabhughat has been exemplary.

before after

Like few corporates pitching their own efforts to support the Cleanliness campaign.

Amidst all this dollops of hope there is no dearth of sceptics including me. While, allocating more funds, constructing enough toilets, providing enough dustbins and continuous cleaning are all important – India cannot become Swachh Bharat unless our own attitude changes. That attitude where we are happy about keeping spaces within our own 4 walls spic’n span while having no issues with littering public spaces. And in this lies the eternal problem. In the Safaigiri summit last night, the Prime Minister spoke passionately of the significance of the movement, the positives strides it has made and attempted to pacify the naysayers.  And rightly so. However my only issue was with the Govt’s initial attempt to put the whole thrust on the Abhiyan to “Cleaning” rather than creating awareness and awakening about “not littering”. Its’ still not too late.

From the PM’s speech yesterday it appears that there is a shift in the approach. Capacity building (Toilets construction, dustbins,..) need to go hand in hand with social awakening. Here the Govt. can very well co-opt the so many NGO’s who do wonderful work in the social sector to spread the message about “not littering” in the 1st place. The HR ministry should work with the academicia to include “cleanliness” in the curriculum in some form or other so that the next Gen Next learns about Science, Sanskriti and Swachhata in equal measure. And as a country we have to be united in taking this mission seriously. Recently we saw some political parties in the opposition deriding and announcing that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a failure of the Govt. and the PM. Well, we must have no pretensions that if Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a failure, it is a failure of all of us. PM doesn’t fail. We all fail.

And if we don’t want to fail, we must remember that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not about cleaning but a clarion call to cease the need for cleaning. Amen.

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