“If Uttar Pradesh becomes open defecation-free in 10 years, I can accept that Sai Baba is alive,” Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday said expressing doubts about the state achieving the complete Nirmal status in next 10 years.

Mr. Ramesh, who is also the Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation, also said the issue of sanitation should become a “political agenda” in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to execute the Government’s declared policy that India will be made open defecation free by 2022.

“In Haryana, out of 6,700 Gram Panchayats, 1,700 have become Nirmal Gram Panchayat. The way the programme is being run in Haryana is encouraging. The Chief Minister has assured me that by 2014, all the Gram Panchayats will be Nirmal Gram Panchayat. In Himachal Pradesh, I expect that by March 2013, all the Gram Panchayats will be Nirmal Gram Panchayat.

Vigorously pushing the agenda of sanitation, he said “an army of volunteers” comprising the three crore members of women self-help groups, over 8 lakh ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) volunteers and 13 lakh anganwadi workers to spread the awareness of hygene through the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan campaign in rural areas of the country.

The Minister said he was trying to “de-bureaucratise” the sanitation movement and make it a national movement.

“There is too much bureaucratic movement right now. How to make it a people’s movement? How to make it a national obsession? That is what my concern is,” Mr. Ramesh said.

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