THE Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, an excellent campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 2, 2014 to clean India’s cities and villages, has not achieved the desired success. The unresolved issues are going to come in the way of the campaign, which was inaugurated to coincide with Gandhi Jayanti, realizing its vision of Clean India by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. True, in the initial months, the campaign seemed to receive a great response throughout the country. Ministers in the Modi government, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and governors appointed by the Modi government showed some extra energy of course in organizing and participating in cleanliness drives, but there were businessmen, senior citizens, teachers, colleges and schools and celebrities too who joined the drive with enthusiasm.
As a reminder of how seriously his government took the mission, the Prime Minister made a special mention of the issue in his Independence Day address to the nation. He went to the extent of declaring that toilets are of higher priority than temples to his government. Modi nominated nine celebrities for promoting the mission, including Sachin Tendulkar, Baba Ramdev, Shashi Tharoor, Anil Ambani, Kamal Hasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan; each celebrity was to nominate one person to take the initiative to the people. There were five mission objectives which were all very laudable: One, eliminate open defecation by constructing toilets for households, communities; two, eradicate manual scavenging; three, introduce modern and scientific municipal solid waste management practices; four, enable private sector participation in the sanitation sector; and five, change people’s attitudes to sanitation and create awareness.
There were many programmes across the country, led or inspired by the celebrities and governments, but quite often they were seen as photo opportunities for celebrities and lesser mortals to be seen cleaning streets with a long broom held in gloved hands. The too bright, ironed and fashionable dresses the celebrities wore looked in sharp contrast to the muck they were sweeping or scooping. But somehow the campaign did not pick up great speed. Only 31.83 lakh toilets could be built between April 2014 and January 2015 under this campaign, which was about 25% of the target for 2014-15. So as to put an end to open defecation and adopt better solid waste management practices, the one-year target for urban areas was to finish constructing 25 lakh individual toilets, 1 lakh community and public toilets, achieve 100 per cent collection and transportation of waste in 1,000 cities and cent per cent processing and disposal of waste in 100 cities. But the achievement was only one-fourth of the target. By 2019, the government plans to construct 12 crore toilets across India under the mission, which would seem to be a very difficult task, going by the performance. Not only the performance has been low, even the quality of performance has come into question. An impact assessment study conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) revealed that toilets built in rural areas were lying unused, as the villagers had several issues regarding their use which the government or panchayats had failed to address.
The worse part of the whole undertaking is the claim of high achievement by the Modi government despite the poor performance. The government claims that it has performed far better in rural India as it has constructed more than 80 lakh toilets. A deeper look however reveals that the number of toilets is not the number constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission. There were many other schemes, started by the UPA government, or existing even from before, in which subsidies were granted to families to construct toilets. There were toilets constructed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Indira Awaas Yojana. Every state government had its own programme for helping families that had to resort to open defecation in rural and urban areas in absence of private toilets. The government’s official version is that their initial focus has been on a campaign to induce behavioural change in people to end open defecation. However, behaviour in this respect, as in other respects, is dependent on the easy availability of resources and facilities. For behavioural change to come about, the infrastructure including an easy, comfortable and convenient toilet and human waste disposal system has to be put in place. Behavioural change cannot happen in a vacuum. The challenge is to make toilets attached to every home and to set up an effective and satisfactory waste disposal system both in rural and urban parts.