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Editorial Articles


Issue no 42, 15-21 January 2022

Achieving Swachhata in Mission Mode

Sandip Das

Revered in India as ‘Father of the Nation’, Mahatma Gandhi’s concern for public and private sanitation was part of his satyagraha campaign from the days he spent in South Africa. For Gandhi, the drive for cleanliness in society was an integral part of the process in bringing about a casteless and free society. “Everyone is his own scavenger,” he once said stressing that the need for making cleanliness a personal responsibility was key to removing untouchability.

Gandhi’s call for sanitation came first during the Satyagraha in South Africa. His priority back then was to remove the assertion made by white settlers that Indians lacked hygiene and therefore needed to be kept segregated. In an open letter to the Natal legislative assembly in 1894, Gandhi wrote that Indians too can maintain the same standards of sanitation as Europeans, provided they received the same kind of attention and opportunity. He had emphasised on the need for Indians themselves to take up the matter of cleanliness with vigour and urgency.

The drive for cleanliness in the Gandhian movement grew stronger after the non- cooperation struggle of the early 1920s. By that time, Gandhi’s call for sanitation was firmly embedded in two separate movements - the struggle for independence and the need for removing untouchability. Emphasising on the close connection between cleanliness and Swaraj, Gandhi asked Indians to learn from the West the art of municipal sanitation and modify it to suit our own specific needs. He maintained that open defecation should only be done in a secluded spot in a hole dug in the ground and commodes should be used in the latrines.

“Swaraj can only be had by clean, brave people,” wrote Gandhi in an article titled ‘Our Insanitation’ in 1925. Gandhi had stated that sanitation is more important than independence. He advocated that cleanliness is most important for physical well-being and a healthy environment and that it was essential for everyone to learn about cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation and the various diseases that were caused due to poor hygienic conditions. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

In the post-independence phase, health and sanitation aspects found mention in the five- year plans. In 1954, the rural sanitation programme in India was introduced as a part of the First Five Year Plan. However, these provisions did not result in improving sanitation conditions across the country. No separate funds were allocated for construction and repair of toilets, thus sanitation facilities remained a cause of worry. The 1981 Census revealed rural sanitation coverage was only around 1%.

The lack of sanitation was identified as a leading cause of diarrhoea among children (under 5 years) resulting in stunting among children and also resulted in several preventable child deaths. Sanitation is also a critical aspect for ensuring safety and dignity for women. In 1986, the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) which solely focussed on sanitation was introduced. The first nationwide centrally sponsored programme aimed to provide safe sanitation in rural areas. Since the programme did not address the question of Open Defecation, it did not provide the desired results.

In 1999, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) with a vision to eradicate open defecation by 2017 was launched. This was followed by the launch of Nirmal Gram Puraskar, Sampoorna Swachhata Andolana Scheme and other initiatives to strengthen the TSC. In 2006, TSC was merged with Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), then a flagship scheme under the Ministry of Rural Development which addressed rural housing needs by giving financial assistance for the construction of dwelling units for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. The convergence allowed the use of funds for the construction of sanitary toilets in IAY houses.

Toilets were constructed in large numbers, but the quality of construction remained a concern and there was no focus on changing behaviour at the ground level in the promotion of usage of toilets. Many households who had started using toilets slipped back to defecating in the open. In 2012, the centre launched Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), with an aim to provide 100 per cent access to toilets in rural households by 2022. NBA was launched in convergence with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). NBA was an update of TSC with renewed strategies and modified guidelines and objectives to accelerate sanitation coverage in the rural areas.

Despite the widely accepted fact related to the critical importance of sanitation and personal hygiene, the sanitation coverage of India was as low as 39 per cent till 2014. Around 55 crore people in rural areas were without a toilet facility before 2014. This was severely impacting the health, and also the dignity of people in rural areas, especially of women and children. Open defecation was regarded as a matter of national shame, but it was an often ignored subject which was not raised in public discussion.

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led government revamped the NBA into Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and introduced two submissions – Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban). While the prime focus of the NBA was to improve the sanitation conditions in the rural regions of the country, SBM took urban areas under its ambit through construction of public toilets across cities and towns. Under SBM, the subsidy provided by the government for the construction of Individual Household Latrine (IHHL) was increased from Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000.

The SBM was approved on September 24, 2014, and took effect from October 2, 2014. The goal was to achieve clean and Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2, 2019. To make India ODF, the target was set to construct 67 lakh individual household toilets and 5 lakh community toilets in urban areas. For the rural areas, where the sanitation coverage was merely 38.7 per cent at the time of launch of SBM, the aim was to bring it to 100 per cent.

A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019,” said Shri Narendra Modi after launching the Swachh Bharat Mission at Rajpath in New Delhi on 2nd October 2014. While leading the mass movement for cleanliness, Prime Minister Modi exhorted people to fulfill Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a clean and hygienic India.

The Prime Minister himself has been the chief communicator for the Mission, connecting sanitation with human dignity and integrity. He personally wrote to all 250,000 Gram Pradhans motivating them to help people in their villages achieve sanitation services. Anybody who volunteered for the Swachh Bharat Mission was called Swachhagrahi by the Prime Minister. Swachhagrahi is symbolic of Gandhi’s thoughts and ideals. Swachhagrahis added new energy and enthusiasm to the Satyagraha se Swachhagraha campaign.

Over 12 crore school children, 6.25 lakh Swachhagrahis, 2.5 lakh sarpanches, millions of citizens and around 50 brand ambassadors were members of this team. Swachhagrahis regularly mobilized community members for toilet construction and its usage. The Prime Minister equated Swachhata with service and launched the ‘Swachhata Hi Seva’ campaign which transformed into a Jan Andolan connecting political workers, youth, religious groups, celebrities, SHGs, and community members.

The campaign effectively utilized modern technology for comprehensive monitoring. Each toilet in every village was mapped on the Integrated Management Information System for a real time progress report. Every toilet was mandatorily geotagged for ensuring transparency in the entire process. The Information, Education and Communication (IEC) division of Swachh Bharat Mission added new energy and dimension to the government dialogue. The iconic campaigns like ‘Darwaza Band’, ‘Saaf Nahi to Maaf Nahi’ mobilized and connected citizens across rural India.

The government made a provision of Rs 12,000 per toilet as financial incen-tive for promoting the toilet construction and its usage. Over the five years of SBM-G, the government allocated over Rs 1.3 lakh crore and ensured no scarcity of funds. Under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), 10.28 crore toilets have been constructed in 36 States and Union Territories. 603,175 villages were declared ODF in five years.

Rural sanitation coverage of almost 100% has been achieved due to availability of toilet facilities to all villagers and their motivation to use toilets. On the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, all the Districts, States and Union Territories declared themselves ODF. As a result of the Swachh Bharat Mission, 55 crore people changed their behaviour and started using toilets. With the attainment of Swachh Bharat, there has been a significant reduction in water and sanitation related diseases. SBM has resulted in an annual saving of more than Rs 50,000 per household in rural India. After becoming ODF, many villages have seen a reduction in the number of deaths due to diseases like diarrhoea, malaria etc. Child health and nutrition have also improved.

In 2014, Government of India launched ‘Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya’ initiative to ensure that all schools in India have access to separate functional toilets for boys and girls. Achieving an ODF India in record time also meant that India attained Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) aimed at sanitation for all a whopping eleven years before the UN’s SDG target of 31 December 2030.

In 2014, Government of India launched ‘Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya’ initiative to ensure that all schools in India have access to separate functional toilets for boys and girls. Achieving an ODF India in record time also meant that India attained Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) aimed at sanitation for all a whopping eleven years before the UN’s SDG target of 31 December 2030.

Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS) and the corresponding State share, remaining funds will be dovetailed form 15th Finance Commission grants to Rural Local Bodies, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR funds, and revenue generation models, etc., particularly for SLWM.

The DDWS is working to identify new decentralized and cost-effective technology solutions to support in: cleaning and rejuvenating water bodies in rural areas, grey water faecal sludge management, single use plastic waste management, animal waste manage-ment towards realizing the concept of Waste to Wealth. The main focus of Gobardhan Scheme by DDWS is keeping villages clean, increasing the income of rural households, and generation of energy and organic manure from cattle waste.

The DDWS is working to identify new decentralized and cost-effective technology solutions to support in: cleaning and rejuvenating water bodies in rural areas, grey water faecal sludge management, single use plastic waste management, animal waste manage-ment towards realizing the concept of Waste to Wealth. The main focus of Gobardhan Scheme by DDWS is keeping villages clean, increasing the income of rural households, and generation of energy and organic manure from cattle waste.

The two missions have augmented the capacity to deliver basic services of water supply and sanitation to the citizens. Swachhta has become a Jan Andolan. All urban local bodies have been declared ODF and 70% solid waste is being scientifically processed now. AMRUT has been ensuring water security by adding 1.1 crore household water tap connections and 85 lakh sewer connections, thus benefiting more than 4 crore people.

On October 1, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched SBM-U 2.0 and AMRUT 2.0 which have been designed to realize the aspiration to make all our cities ‘Garbage Free’ and ‘Water Secure’. These flagship Missions signify a step forward in our march towards effectively addressing the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing India and will also help contribute towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

(Sandip Das is a Delhi based Senior Journalist. email – sandipdasfood agri@gmail.com)

View expressed are personal.