Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of Independent India rolled up an ambitious Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan to clean up the country by 2019. 2 years into the Narendra Modi led Government, it remains a story that was well crafted to promote rhetoric and photo opportunities. History will record that many of these Swacch Bharat Campaigns showcased politicians with a broom in near clean surroundings just for documentation purpose and for media images. The voice of reason tells us that this campaign should best be confined to history, if not the dustbins of history.
On one hand we had the government earmarking Rs 1.96 lakh crore to build 13.04 crore individual toilet among five lakh odd communities, and on the other hand this was not backed by any concrete research or introspection of rural policies. The rural sanitation policy doesn't really talk about why rural people do not use toilets in the first place. If we do not know why they refuse to use it, the entire campaign and stunt will be a product in purposeless suffering to those who implement this in the ground.
In some of my rural visits and interactions with many villagers, they told me that they are better able to answer nature’s call in the great outdoors amidst nature and that a closed toilet makes it difficult for them to defecate. Another household, I visited where the toilet was built, closed the toilet and used the space as a go-down to store things. The ministry of drinking water and sanitation has built more than 95.23 lakh toilets they claim. Whether it is fiction or fact in the built up of these statistics is another thing altogether. How much money gets siphoned off in percentage sharing while building the toilets is anybody’s guess.
NITI Aayog’s recommendation on adding cess for gathering resources on the campaign is like robbing people in a peoples’ democracy. To further their selfish hidden motives, they are adding pain to the common man who works hard to build India, brick by brick. The middle class is pushed to the brink because of the menace of Swacch Bharat. On one hand, we have an aviation policy being brought out to regulate air fares and help everyone fly, and on the other hand, we have now for every ticket you book, Swacch Bharat Cess, Krishi Kalyan Cess which is adding a great deal of economic burden for the middle class who certainly didn’t expect this when they thought Acche din would be Sacche Din.
The country needs to seriously reflect on how the national atmosphere has been shaping up. When 31% of Indians elected Narendra Modi to the husting, they did so because there was an anti-incumbency that grew into national veins. They also did so because they were sold dreams that touched the sky. He started of as Prime Minister, but now he is almost NRI.
In a report mentioned by CAG, it said that, audit revealed a failure of the sanitation programmes in achieving the said targets with more than 30 % of household latrines not being used due to poor quality construction, non-maintenance and incomplete structure. The CAG also said that large scale diversion and irregularities were noted in the funding and it said that mere deployment of resources will not have any impact unless these are backed by realistic planning and large scale IEC campaigns leading to Behaviour change communication, not just advertisements.
When I look back, I don’t know what Narendra Modi was envisioning. Did he feel that his image and posters will clean India out of a mess that has grown over the years essentially because of a lack of education among the poor?
All advisors in the PMO should understand that change is a slow process and it needs sincere strategies in a phased manner. Merely hyping Swacch Bharat and wasting the national resources will not be of any use. In the past many initiatives by various governments were taken up. In 1986, we had the Central Rural Sanitation Programme, then in 1999 we had the complete sanitation campaign. The failure of these simply pointed to the fact that the Indian rural people were not yet ready to embrace a change without they being really led to why they should do so. Public health workers need to conduct large scale educational programmes on Water, sanitation and hygiene measures and the possibility of diseases emerging through it. The local leaders in turn should then educate the masses. Research allocation for these initiatives need to be sanctioned.
Hindustan times conducted a survey recently and 40.51% said that there was no change and the city is as dirty as ever. Only 13.98% said that there was considerable improvement. This evidence is good enough to suggest that the campaign must stop and India’s powerful middle class should not be fooled into this any longer. As far as urban cities are concerned, in the absence of dust-bins to dump the waste at every 500 metres, we cannot expect citizens to carry the waste throughout their journey. Absence of proper cleaning mechanisms, no manpower to meet the growing demand and misuse of funds should confine Swacch Bharat campaigns to the history books.
At least history will be kind to Modi for re-inventing the wheel with hype. It will be meaningful for the Prime Minister to tour the country first before travelling abroad on public money so that policies made at Raisina Hill and South Block are at least understood by the grass-roots population, if not implemented.