Millennium Post

Cleanliness next to godliness

Thus said Mahatma Gandhi in an essay published in Harijan issue dated 28 December 1947. Mahatma was a communicator extraordinaire and made his point effectively using pithy expressions and suitable quotes. Mahatma could do so because there was clarity in his thought and he could afford to express his thoughts without any inhibition because he did not have an electoral constituency to address.

After his death, Mahatma’s name and quotes in the nation he created has been variously used to perpetuate ideas, thoughts, schemes and scams, which would have never passed his scrutiny. The UPA government launched a most ambitious village rejuvenation programme and managed to win a second term on the basis of this scheme. When the programme came under cloud for financial irregularities, it was named after Mahatma lest a successor government decide to scrap it.

The successor government is no less. While it has been in power for too short a period to sire any financial impropriety as yet but it is for certain indulging in intellectual dishonesty to propagate its schemes tagging symbolisms associated with Mahatma. The cleanliness drive which the Modi government plans to undertake from Mahatma’s birthday on 2 October this year is Gandhian just in word and not in spirit. The Swachh Bharat Mission, according to a government statement, aims at fulfilling the dream of clean India of Mahatma Gandhi by his 150th birth anniversary in 2019.

The reason to contest the government’s mission statement is that it comes on the heels of ‘Make in India’ declaration. One would have to understand, the context of Mahatma’s famous statement of cleanliness is next to godliness. It certainly doesn’t endorse the idea of making India into a manufacturing hub. Compendium of Gandhi’s writings in ‘Young India’ and ‘Harijan’ and his speeches elsewhere were published on the eve of independence in 1947 and was titled as ‘India of My Dreams’. It was later expanded after Mahatma’s death and it’s in this compendium that the quote finds mention under the chapter titled ‘Village Industries’ and sub-section ‘Compost Manure.’

Gandhi writes, ‘Given the willing co-operation of the masses of India, this country can not only drive out shortage of food, but can provide India with more than enough. This organic manure ever enriches, never impoverishes the soil. The daily waste, judiciously composted, returns to the soil in the form of golden manure causing a saving of millions of rupees and increasing manifold, the total yield of grains and pulses. In addition, the judicious use of waste keeps the surrounding clean. And cleanliness is not only next to godliness, it promotes health.’

These lines are preceded by his thoughts on how mindless industrialisation, as Make in India propose to do, would harm our economy. ‘I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation and marketing.

Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others,’ he first wrote in Harijan in issue dated 29 August 1936.

Before I am charged of dismissing a good idea that’s Swachh Bharat Mission even before it’s even been launched, I would come forward to say that India does need to clean itself of all garbage which lies strewn on streets, nook and crannies especially in the urban areas. However, those who have planned the Swacch Bharat Mission have failed to take into account that urban filth is largely because of unplanned industrialisation and outward migration from the villages.

Will it be limited to one event with the Prime Minister walking with children the way Mahatma used to do and visit Rajghat, Valmiki Basti and India Gate? There are plans to inaugurate lavatories with the mission that every school and home of the country should have a lavatory. Towards this end Rural development ministry has been asked to contribute Rs 134000 crore and Urban Development Ministry Rs 62009 crore.

The states will share 25 per cent cost of this while Jammu & Kashmir and North-East states will bear only 10 per cent of the amount. The Gandhi Jayanti holiday has been cancelled as all the offices would remain open and the government employees will be administered oath of cleanliness. So would be the poor children attending the government schools.

Prime facie such plans need to be applauded. But there is need to ask questions too, to save it a few years down the line from being another case of squander of public money. If garbage and sewage is to be mobilised, what plans the government has for its disposal? Let’s forget of the whole nation, what plans the government has to overcome the challenge in the national Capital.

The two landfill sites of Delhi at Ghazipur in East Delhi and Mukarba Chowk in North-West along with one in Okhla are long overdue for closure but as no option is available with civic bodies to dump the garbage they are still being used and they have reached a height of 40-50 metres beyond their sanctioned limit. What plans the government has to find new garbage dumps and use processed garbage. This would be something which would interest a reader more than just seeing a photo with officials and ministers with a broom in their hand.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post

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