Mera Swachh Bharat Mahan!!!

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”!

Japanese children cleaning in schools

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”!!!

Swachh, Sochalay & Soch!!!

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.

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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”😁😁

 

 

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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A watch on “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”!!!

“I have read in history and folklore that kings in those days used to take rounds of the countryside in disguise to understand if aam admi are happy in their regime. I thought I will also ape that idea and do some MBWA (Managing By Wandering About) in disguise to mainly see for myself how this ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ is working on the ground.  I chose to move about in the guise of a Sardar (clearly avoided the pinned stripe suit and all 🙂 ) and do the wandering about this Sunday morning in a Mumbai suburb – Mulund where I was holed up in a friend’s house. I chose Mumbai because of my firm belief that if we clean up Mumbai, we can clean up any place!!. Over the years Mumbai apart from being the “Melting pot” of different cultures, had also become a cold pan of civic apathy.

As I started my morning walk, though its’ a Sunday early morning, as it is typical in Mumbai, the roads are quite busy. And what I saw in that 1 hour walk set me thinking:

  • Just next to the gate of the building I stayed, stray dogs were devouring the contents from inside the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) dustbins and thereby littering the whole place. The place was also wreaking with foul stench. If only the bins had tight lids I thought.
  • The road adjacent has a large peepal tree under which I saw a heap of banana peels. This must be a regular place of a banana vendor I reckoned, where people come to eat bananas after their meal, eat and throw the peels on the road there itself. After all it is the job of the municipality to clean up the next day!
  • Just ahead where a few chawls line up both sides of the road, a young lady was helping her infant kid to do his morning chores right on the side of a drain.
  • As I was wondering “if Swachh Bharat will ever become a reality?” a set of volunteers wearing uniformed T-Shirts got down from a bus and swiftly got down to the task of cleaning up both sides of the L.B.S.Marg. I was impressed to see them coming fully prepared with all kinds of paraphernalia needed for cleaning. Interested in knowing about them, I engaged in a conversation with an elderly gentleman who seemed like a leader of the group. He mentioned that like-minded people have all come together to do their bit in response to the Prime Minister’s clarion call to clean up India. So every Sunday they spend 3 hours in different parts of Mumbai and today was Mulund’s turn. Not bad I thought.
  • Just as I watched them cleaning, there were dividers on the road with signage of “Green Mumbai, Clean Mumbai”. One could hardly read the signage properly as they were half buried in red paan stains. I thought to my mind that this paan chewing is a curse for our country. Many young and old, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, men and women all take the pleasure of chewing paan and spit the red juice on the roads, walls, steps, stairs in short wherever. No amount of the poor volunteers cleaning week after week is going to make India clean if this paan spitting is not stopped in public places. Ills of spitting in public itself can be a topic of one “Man Ki Baat” broadcast.
  • While I was pondering on this, I saw a pretty young girl in her teens walking her dog and she wanted me get out of her way. I stopped my MBPA (Managing By Pondering About 🙂 ), mumbled a Sorry and moved to the side. She walked ahead and then stopped for a while as her dog pooped well, yes on the road. The PYT got immersed on her phone while her pet nastied the public place and then continued to walk when her pet finished its quota of Aswachh Bharat Abhiyan 😦 😦 . In most of the developed countries pet owners are required to clean up their pet poop.
  • As I turned towards the corner and headed back to my place, I saw a paan shop littered with cigarette buds and Gutka packets (And I thought Gutka was banned in Mumbai!), crushed sugar cane trash of a juice vendor lying on the road so on and so forth. Can’t they have small dustbins outside their outlets and get their customers litter into them?

The one hour stroll in Mumbai was enough for me to understand where the campaign is working and where it is not.  

  • While it is good to nominate celebrities and entities to get involved in the programme to get visibility and continuous awareness, that in itself is not enough
  • Any amount of cleaning is not enough unless aam admis realize that they should not litter in public places.
  • And in public places there aren’t enough dustbins.
  • Cities with more population are dirtier than smaller towns and villages.

 On my flight back to Delhi itself I thought of the next steps for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. 

  • Focus first on the 6 metro cities, then next 14, then the next 30 and so on. Build on one success after another.
  • Carrot and Stick approach towards implementation of the programme. Rewards for success and introduce stiff fines as deterrence.
  • Call a meeting of the municipality heads in these cities to get them involved.
  • Get Municipality wards to provide dustbins in every conceivable public place. Involve large corporates to give dustbins as CSR initiative.
  • Competition among wards and awards for the cleanest wards.
  • Involve set of NGOs to do repeated door to door campaigning for creating awareness about not strewing in public. Duplicate the success of the door to door polio eradication campaign.
  • Collect all who are involved in begging and “transform” them to “Swachhata watchmen”. Find a way to empower them to collect “On the spot” fines when they catch people red handed for paan spitting, not cleaning up dog poops,…
  • Request the celebrities who have been nominated to focus on spreading awareness about not littering rather than just spend few hours cleaning with a jaadu.
  • Tell Arun Jaitleyji to levy a x% cess on companies earning more than 100 Crore profit in a year in the forthcoming budget to fund the campaign
  • And finally in order to put the foundation for a clean India, call up Smriti behen and get her ministry to include importance of public cleanliness in school curriculum to indoctrinate “Swachhata” from childhood. 

As the Prime Minister of this country who brought the issue of cleanliness to the public agenda, I have to keep a watch on this Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and make sure that this campaign succeeds. We indeed have to wake up to a “Clean India” in Oct 2019. And for that if I have to disguise myself and make more clandestine trips to different parts of the country and continuously crowdsource ideas so be it” !!!

Swachh

That was a bit of imagination going wild – as if our PM Narendra Modi himself hits the ground to check what’s happening and taking some corrective actions!!!

Image courtesy: India Today

For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!!

From the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the kickoff of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in India on the 15th August this year, India has been on a cleaning overdrive. Routinely we have been seeing ministers, netas wielding the broom and doing a cleaning act. It culminated in the actual launch of this new social awakening campaign by the PM on the 2nd Oct where he himself did a bit of sweeping. Its’ been a while since India actually saw the top leader championing a social campaign which Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Shashi Tharoor in their articles refer to as the “Bully pulpit” a phrase meaning to drive change top down. Close on the heels of the PM, we saw many ministers, MPs, MLAs, officialdom, volunteers from NGOs, celebrities and general public doing their bit of Shramdhan on the 2nd Oct in cleaning in different parts of the country. So far so good.

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But the moot question is does a country become clean by cleaning alone?

Among the many countries I’ve visited if I have to pick up one country which stood out for its cleanliness it will obviously be Japan. Many who have been to Japan agree to this. Is Japan spic’n span because they have more people to clean and for longer? Or do they put technology to use to ensure cleanliness? May be they do. But the fact is Japanese are extremely particular about cleanliness not just within their homes but in public spaces as well. So what they do is not just cleaning but not creating many opportunities for cleaning. They just don’t litter.  The cleaning up of the football stadium during the FIFA World cup by Japanese fans that too after their team’s exit from the World cup is now part of WhatsApp “forward folklore”. I’m sure most of the litter must have been generated by the Columbian fans!!! From having a small personal ashtray in their pockets to having 4 or 5 waste bins in every nook and corner to separate wastes, cleanliness is one of their two biopolymer strands in their DNA!!!

Contrast that to we Indians, forget DNA, cleanliness need to be searched in our hair strands!!!

I was walking down the stairs after leaving my daughter in a class yesterday. This was when the country was still reeling under the Swachh Bharat mania. A young man must be in his 30’s was standing on the edge of the stairs talking on his mobile phone. As I turned to exit the building, he used all his energy to spit the red juice of the paan he was chewing, on the floor.  I stopped and gave a long stare at him and asked him “Swachh Bharat”??? He started smiling and I felt like slapping him then and there. Now the red remnants of the “paan art” will be cleaned by someone someday. But the stains will remain to remind the world of our dirty etiquette.

For a while, I was of the view that public etiquette is an education thing. After seeing the walls and corners splashed in red in Mumbai, I have concluded that it is not. Day in day out in Mumbai (and indeed in many parts of our country) gentlemen “paint the city red” by spitting after chewing paan in public spaces and wherever they are.  In most walls, the warning sign goading people not to spit is submerged in paan stains.

For us Indians, by and large cleanliness is within the four walls of our homes. Beyond that is not our concern. This is the core issue and the reason behind the pathetic state of our public places.

If Ganga is dirty, it is not for want of cleaning. In the past Governments sanctioned crores of rupees on Ganga cleaning project and I am sure a fraction of it indeed would have been spent on cleaning. But if we don’t stop littering, then this cleaning is of no use. Like Shashi Tharoor in his article says, in the past also they have been different campaigns for a “Clean India” though not necessarily as visible and of this scale as Narendra Modi’s. They have not yielded results for the same reason that people don’t feel the need of a clean surrounding beyond their four private walls whether they are bus stands, temples, railway stations, airports, parks, gardens, schools, hospitals,… ,…

To be realistic, we cannot expect the PM to keep cleaning his surroundings in public every day in public view. And similarly the ministers, babus, NGO workers,.. . Even I heard that once the programme was over in Delhi, it left behind a trail of of water bottles,.. When the optics fade out in a few days, it will be back to the municipality workers to pick up the thread and litter literally.

So are we to stay condemned with a dirty India? Certainly not. From that point of view, the PM’s initiative is extremely laudable in creating awareness about cleanliness. This awareness needs to be transformed into an awakening by us citizens by educating our children right from the young age about the need to have clean surroundings wherever they are. I don’t have much hope on the current grown up generation to give up their few minutes of self-pleasure and stop chewing paan and spitting from tomorrow. That will continue. And for that may be the PM’s push to all to spend few hours in cleaning every year may help.

But, what will make India a Swachh Bharat though not in 5/10 years but may be in 20/25 years is when attitudinal shift happens in generations. For that we have to follow as per me the most vital part of the pledge which is “I will neither litter or let others litter” and drill this in our children.

Swachh Bharat is not about cleaning but a clarion call to cease the need for cleaning!!!

After thought: If Swachh Bharat Mission leads up to this type of cleaning no complaints though 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Cartoon courtesy : Satish Acharya

Do read my another post on Swachh Bharat – Towards Swaasth and Swachh Bharat!!! https://anandkumarrs.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/towards-swaasth-and-swachh-bharat/