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A dear declaration

A dear declaration

Prime Minister Modi initiated an unprecedented drive for cleanliness across the country on October 2, 2014, observing the birth anniversary of the Farther of the nation. This extensive nation-wide movement for cleanliness went symbolism to be associated with the Mahatma and to commemorate his values. October 2, 2019, was the awaited day of result of this flagship initiative. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aimed to clean up streets and infrastructure in cities, towns, and other rural and urban areas. A prime objective of the Mission was to make India open defecation free by October 2, 2019, commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi by constructing 100 million toilets in rural India at a projected cost of Rs 1.96 lakh crore that is, US$28 billion. The objective to eliminate open defecation by means of constructing household-owned and community-owned toilets and establishing an accountable mechanism of monitoring toilet use is declared achieved by the PM on the said occasion. This accomplishment has therefore contributed to India reaching SDG 6 established by the UN in 2015. The PM specifically declared rural India to be free from the practice of open defecation and while doing so, PM Modi said that the feat of building 11 crore toilets for 60 crore people within 60 months has left the world in awe and shock. This announcement was made in the presence of over 20,000 village heads at an event to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati Riverfront in Gujarat. The audience included individuals associated with Gandhian institutions, high court judges, Padma awardees, students, educationists, and village-level sanitation workers—the people expected to understand the problem of open defecation in its entirety. Being more specific, the PM said that 99 per cent of rural India has been open defecation free and that the villages built over 11 crore toilets in a short span of time. Acknowledging ground-level volunteers who made cleanliness and toilets a common man's topic, he said that "This mission helped make the toilet, which was earlier a difficult topic, a common topic of discussion. From girls who demanded toilet before marriage to Bollywood, everyone contributed to the mission to make India open-defecation-free." While the PM expressed in jubilance that "The whole world is appreciating and awarding us for providing toilets to over 60 crore people in 60 months by building over 11 crore toilets. The world is amazed by this," observers, analysts, and experts argue otherwise.

Making a claim that this achievement is in line with Mahatma Gandhi's vision for India, the PM made a specific mention that "The Swachh Bharat Mission enabled women and developed their skills as masons and created over 75 lakh employment opportunities". Coming forth thus is various aspects of this nation-wide undertaking, highlighting some very crucial elements pertaining to women, employment generation, and how functional the undertaking has been at a micro level. Adding that it was merely a step towards realising the dream of developed India, the PM addressed the Swachh Bharat Mission workers and officials saying that the government plans to implement several such projects to ensure sanitation and clean drinking water. Encouraging further community-based developments such as rainwater harvesting, water recharging and similar projects, he insisted would also help ensure water supply to bio-toilets. Reiterating that hygiene, environment and animal protection were three main concerns of Mahatma Gandhi, "plastic is harmful to all three," the PM said. Gearing up to move towards achieving the next big goal, PM Modi declared that "By 2022, we have to make India free of single-use plastic. The campaign has caught speed in the last three weeks under Swachhta hi Seva campaign. Tonnes of single-use plastic garbage has been collected from across the nation. The use of plastic is coming down significantly, but it can't be done without public contribution." But before setting sight on the next target, there is a need to critically evaluate the claim to have achieved elimination of open defecation in the country. "In 60 months, 600 million people have been given access to toilets, more than 110 million toilets have been built. The whole world is amazed to hear this," the PM told a crowd gathered in Ahmedabad city. Reports, however, reveal that the picture in the nooks and crannies of, none other than, the national capital are in stark contrast to the PM's claim. Upon a closer look at ground realities, we still have for a population of more than 800 people, just one community toilet with 10 latrines. It is a common complaint that the toilets are often stinky and dirty. This is the primary reason a lot of people think it is better to defecate in open as stinky toilets may lead to diseases. As a matter of fact, a lot of residents are, in a manner, forced to defecate in the open as there are not enough community toilets to cater for a large number of people. Another major issue is that toilets remain closed at night. A very basic question follows: where will the people go at night? As the PM had said while launching the campaign in 2014, a clean India would certainly be the best tribute this country could pay to Gandhi but rushing to declare such a critical achievement has little scope of creating the desired impact on ground, and especially on the people who need change the most from such a movement. Sustainable goals like achieving 100 per cent door-to-door waste collection, building solid waste management plants in each town, and persuading Indians to adopt better sanitation practices are not the targets which can be achieved quantitatively and expressed by means of statistics alone. These targets are essentially deeply social in nature and so these must be approached from a social perspective before everything else. Women, employment, menstruating girls and school education, they all fall in the same purview.

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