Disinfecting India's political discourse
In last century, Mahatama Gandhi gave the slogan ‘Cleanliness is Godliness’. Spiritual leaders like Murari Bapu had been roped in by UN agencies to spread the message of ‘sanitation is the first step to Godliness’ and the impact of such initiatives has been far reaching. But the recent controversy stoked by some political leaders to read and undervalue a statement — by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on sanitation and public health — out of context is clearly a discouragement to agencies working rigorously in the field of achieving 100 percent ‘clean India’ target!
Addressing a youth event in the national capital, where thousands of youngsters turned up to listen to Modi’s vision for the country and its youth, the leader rose to the event to speak about his priority and commitment towards universal access to sanitation and public health. Modi told his audience, ‘My identity is of a Hindutvawadi. My image does not permit to say so, but I dare to say. My real thought is: ‘Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya’. Build toilets before you build temples. We are in 21st century but still many Indians do not have access to basic sanitation.’ Raising the slogan of development that could take the country on the path of speedy progress, Modi said lakhs of rupees were spent on temples in villages, but there were no toilets there. He lamented that it was ironic that women in the country had to go in the open for easing themselves in the absence of toilets, one of the main causes for low retention of girls in schools.
But the statement was twisted and was given a political colour. The statement was linked to other controversies plaguing the country with by and large no solution in sight. Attempts were made to stoke a controversy on Modi’s statement by vested interests through comments issued in media terming it as an insult to the majority sect. Wonder, what was wrong in giving priority to sanitation in a country of 1.25 billion people with poor access and incentive to hygiene? Modi had launched a total sanitation campaign (TSC) in Gujarat in 2006 and the initiative has set records in success acknowledged by the UN. Hence, he could stand up and present his vision to the generation which going to lead the country in future.
Today, in Gujarat the Rural Sanitation Schemes have provided altogether 46,50,060 individual Household latrines including 20,27,048 BPL & 26,23,012 APL beneficiaries in the rural areas of the State. Refer the table below.
The Gujarat story
It should be conceded that the state of Gujarat has a very distinctive methodology for bringing focus on burning issues. Initiated by Narendra Modi, every year is celebrated in the State as a theme year. The reason behind lies in the tremendous detailing of every aspect of the execution, i.e., from planning the strategy, to implementation, role defining, to regular tracking and monitoring by the concerned department/s and reporting up to the highest levels.
Recognising the urgent need to address the issues related to cleanliness and sustainability aspects of environment, the Gujarat government declared ‘Clean Gujarat’ or ‘Nirmal Gujarat’ as the theme for the year 2007-2008. And, to show how serious the Government was in ensuring success in the area, a SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) was created with the sole purpose of strategising, facilitating the implementation of the strategies for cleaning and close monitoring of the performance.
The objective of Nirmal Gujarat scheme was to emphasize the importance of sanitation at both household and village level and call upon officials as well as non-state actors to contribute to the success of the Total Sanitation Campaign by ensuring 100 per cent access to sanitation at village/household level by 2015. The overall objective of the scheme was to improve the health and living standard of the community by eliminating the ‘Open Defecation Practice’ amongst the rural community, inculcating general hygiene practice among children in Schools and Anganwadis.
The report of WEDC International Conference, Addis Ababa, 2009, says that significance of sanitation is not just in constructing a clean toilet. Sanitation along with clean drinking water is perhaps one of the most vital constituents to a healthy and vigorous society. The report cited a millennium opinion poll where the humble toilet was regarded by the readers of Time magazine as the most important invention of this century – more significant that the Ford Model or the Concorde Jet or the Personal Computer or even the venerable Ipod!
A toilet is perhaps one single stodgy invention that makes us civilised humans truly civilised. It could even be argued that sanitation civilises men and all great ancient cultures gave a high regard to it, the report concluded.
Sanitation is a social indicator and many constraining factors such as limited reach, availability of a less reliable delivery system, lack of awareness and commitment amongst community are some of the major constraining factors in increasing coverage of sanitation at household level. Keeping these constraints in mind, Government of Gujarat embarked upon its ambitious TSC programme in partnership with UNICEF. It was Narendra Modi’s vision to rope in spiritual leaders and impart the importance of sanitation through spiritual discourses.
Way back in 2006, Modi had interacted with villagers across 18,000 villages in Gujarat through video-conferencing to assert for the creation of Peoples’ Movement for ‘Cleanliness’. He had said then that like patriotism and religion, cleanliness should also become an expression of our daily routine by awakening our internal consciousness and that unhygienic environment in the society is caused by unsanitary behavioural practices and not by poverty. He asked the members of Parliament and members of legislative assembly to utilise their grants to construct sanitation units in schools of their respective constituencies, in turn reducing the girl child dropout rate. Modi announced that state government will make each village a ‘Nirmal Gram’ (Clean Village).
The concept of Nirmal Gram envisaged 100 per cent households and institutions, including school or anganwadi, equipped with a functioning toilet. All ‘BPL’ and APL (Above Poverty Line) households, Anganwadi Centres and schools had to be covered under the scheme. Under the Project, Government of Gujarat also ensured secured water supply into villages to facilitate the sanitation drive and involved active participation from senior citizens, NGOs, institutions, communities, business groups, student groups and women’s groups.
Meanwhile, the state government launched incentive-driven Nirmal Gujarat Award to encourage every village become a Nirmal Gram. Raj Samadhiyala, a small village on outskirts of Rajkot district has received a Nirmal Gram Puraskar award in 2011 from Government of India for ensuring that every household along with schools and Anganwadis had sanitation facility, dust and litter free roads, and proper drainage. This Gram Panchyat has led the way in teaching our cities some hard lessons in sanitation and cleanliness.
People of this country demand development, good governance, access to basic facilities and an enabling environment. Modi is the man for that.