Millennium Post

A cleaner tomorrow

A cleaner tomorrow
As a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to launch the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ or Clean India campaign on Gandhi Jayanti, the 2 October 2014. The prime minister has already asked people to contribute two hours a week to the task of spreading the idea of cleanliness and keeping public spaces clean.

What is Narendra Modi’s dream project all about? Swachh Bharat is a mass mission programme that intends to instill in people the importance of public hygiene, sanitation and proper sewage and build over 800 million toilets and establish modern sewage systems to make India free from open defecation and open drains in a time span of five years, that is by 2019; which happens to be the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

While political leaders may have spoken about issues like cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in the past, it is for the first time in India that after Mahatma Gandhi, a political leader has come out so strongly to fight dirt and filth in the country. By talking about the need for constructing toilets in the country in his first speech from the Red Fort on Independence Day, the prime minister conveyed unequivocally his government’s emphasis on building a clean India.

 As a prelude to the government’s flagship scheme, cleanliness-drives are being carried out in government offices upto the Panchayat level, schools, historic monuments etc from 25 September and would continue till Deepawali on 23 October. The government has also tried to rope in all parliamentarians, municipal bodies, religious and spiritual leaders in the scheme so as to make it a ‘people’s movement’ instead of it being just a ‘government programme’. PSUs, banks, departmental undertakings like the Railways and private sector groups like TCS and  Bharti Foundation etc have already pledged monetary commitments for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Is cleanliness and the lack of it a major issue of concern in India? Statistics seem to suggest so. 

Recent WHO and UNICEF data estimates that about 59 crore people defecate in the open in the country. Data on waste generation suggest that on an average, 0.2 to 0.6 kg of garbage is generated per person per day in India and a total of 1,88,500 tonnes of waste is generated every day in the country. Besides, figures also reveal that 45 per cent of drains are open in slums in cities. However, it appears that building toilets and proper sewage system are not the only goals of the said Abhiyan. The prime minister’s larger  intent appears to be  to use the Swachh Bharat movement as an instrument of national reconstruction.

One, people’s readiness and willingness is a precondition for improvement of public hygiene and sanitation in any nation. By making citizens more conscious and thoughtful about the need for voluntary effort in tidiness, the Abhiyan seeks to instill social behaviour and attitudes that would foster a pervasive culture of cleanliness which would be beneficial to the individual, community and nation as a whole. Two, mass involvement and participation in the movement would also evoke feelings of national identity, national pride and patriotism in the country. Three, the tidiness movement would also position India as a progressive and successful country in the global comity of nations. Four, improved sanitation and drainage would also lead to lower sickness and better health, higher morale, pleasantness among people thereby leading to an overall improvement in the quality of life. Five, the movement would also yield ecological benefits as better sanitation and sewage would lead to an improvement in the physical environment.

Thus, all the above points suggest that the ‘Clean India’ movement could bring about a national renaissance. The abhiyaan would also lead to concrete economic benefits for the country.

Interestingly, an economic rationale for cleanliness was spelt out by none other than Adam Smith in his ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations (1776)’ when he dwelt upon the backwardness of Scottish dairy farming. Smith wrote, 'the increase of price pays for more labour, care and cleanliness. The dairy becomes more worthy of the farmers attention and the quality of its produce gradually improves.' Clearly, the role of hygiene and cleanliness is very important for the dairy industry as unsanitary conditions in dairy farms lead to growth of bacteria, yeasts and mould that spoils milk and milk products. It may be recalled that in the year 2000, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had expressed concern  on the poor hygiene found in millions of small scale dairy farms in India and other developing countries. On the contrary, clean dairy farms preserve health of cows, betters the taste and quality of milk and milk products, lengthens their shelf life and makes possible large scale marketing of dairy products thus providing jobs and livelihood to millions of farmers.

Better hygiene, sanitation, cleanliness is not only vital for the dairy sector but is also critical in other
sectors such as foodstuffs, fisheries, hotels and restaurants and tourism. Besides, a cleaner and hygienic India would also be more attractive to foreign direct investors and increase the global demand for the nation’s exports. All this would in turn bolster GDP growth in the country,  lead to creation of more jobs for young Indians thereby shaping and influencing the nation’s economic reality too.

What is the outlook for the abhiyaan? Funding may not be a constraint for the scheme. The BJP government has pledged a little over Rs 1.96 lakh crores for the abhiyaan in the next five years. Moreover, with the prime minister taking active interest in the scheme, his commitment to good governance and his reputation as a doer, the scheme would also attract international sources of funding in the future.

However, there is a risk factor too. Given our indifference to urination and defecation in the open and uncovered drainages, it would be a tough job to bring about a change in the mindsets as household practices are deeply embedded in social norms and values. Thus, implementation could be a tough task and challenge for the government given the need to bring about a drastic change in the prevailing behavioural attitudes towards issues of hygiene, sanitation and drainage.

What more then needs to be done to strengthen Swachh Bharat Abhiyan?

One, a high voltage publicity campaign on the health and economic benefits of Swachh Bharat should be conducted in all Indian languages through the print media, radio and television, social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, WhatsApp etc), and also by using stickers, posters, banners and hoardings. Two, an active public education programme on the need and importance of public hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation should be carried out through lectures, seminars and workshops by officials and experts and through distribution of pamphlets and brochures. Three, an active dissemination of ‘Best practices’ and ‘Role modelling’ information in fostering public hygiene and cleanliness must be done through advertisements and newsletters.

Finally, competitions can be conducted highlighting both the cleanest and filthiest offices, schools, colleges, hospitals, temples, factories, markets, bus stops, railway stations, airports etc in different states.

The author is All-India Convenor of BJP Economic Cell
C Rajashekhar

C Rajashekhar

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