Will Swachh Bharat Abhiyan be a success?

September 29, 2017 12:15 am | Updated 12:50 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wields the broom at the Mandir Marg police station in New Delhi. File

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wields the broom at the Mandir Marg police station in New Delhi. File



The mission for a clean India will not work without breaking the link between caste and occupation


Bezwada Wilson

In the third year since its launch, the purpose of Swachh Bharat is still not clear. We have to understand one thing: this entire campaign is to make India clean. But the people who actually make the country swachh (clean), and have kept it swachh so far, have been left behind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to achieve this goal without their participation.

The caste link

To clean the country, you have to address the problems of those who have spent a lifetime cleaning the country. You come out with your brooms and clean for a day. It is a photo opportunity for most of you. But I want to ask, what of the remaining 364 days? Who will clean your dirt? In India, there is an inexorable link between occupation and caste; the occupation of manual scavenging is linked with caste. We have to break the link between caste and occupation before we set out to achieve Swachh Bharat. It cannot be achieved by preaching ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’. You have made certain communities from particular castes clean the country. If that were not the case, why is it that for the last 4,000 years, the same communities are cleaning the countryside? Without breaking the chain, those who make Bharat swachh will never be a part of the campaign. You will be projecting an illusion and to promote that, you will conceive of campaigns where the success of the illusion will depend on how well you promote it.

The Prime Minister has already missed the target before he set out to achieve the goal. He has to come out openly and say that caste is the root cause of the problem he wishes to annihilate. He has to say that despite the Constitution declaring the abolition of untouchability in Article 17, it is still practised by perpetuating occupations such as scavenging. The cause has not been made clear by the Prime Minister. Cleaning India is not a spiritual experience and he should not glorify it. In the Indian context, manual scavenging is a misery, drudgery, so one cannot worship it. Can a manual scavenger worship his occupation by cleaning someone’s faeces? One has to begin by recasting society and its target, reconstructing society first by breaking the links between occupation castes. Slogans like ‘Clean-up India’ are an illusion.

Shaming no solution

People are not using toilets because they neither have access nor the capacity to use one. You cannot organise campaigns to shame them. If your priority is the poor, let them choose what they want. The Constitution says the state cannot interfere in people’s lives. But by appointing whistle-blowers who shame those who do not use toilets, the state is terrorising people.

Then, let us come to the toilets being constructed. Each toilet requires a septic tank. My question is, who will clean the septic tank? Instead of modernising the sewer lines and septic tanks and investing money and energy on smart techniques of sanitation, you are adding more problems to the existing problem. You have no concern for those who are dying cleaning sewers. People who have given up their lives in keeping Bharat clean, you have not spoken about their Right to Life. All of this shows the insensitivity in setting this goal. The sewers are being cleaned by those very people shamed in the campaign. Every month, there is news about people dying in manholes after being ordered to clean them. Why hasn’t any thought gone into mechanised cleaning of manholes in the city? Why is it the job of the most depressed man to clean up and lose his life in the process?

Bezwada Wilson is national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2016

As told to Anuradha Raman




The cleanliness mission will work because its success will have a liberating impact on women


Hardeep S. Puri

Swachhta (cleanliness) was an idea first articulated by Mahatma Gandhi, who said that sanitation is even more important than political freedom. A mission as fundamentally transformative as Swachh Bharat will not only result in intended physical outcomes but also a lifestyle and mindset change.

The demand-driven performance in the last three years is anchored in the passion with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi transformed this mission into a project of the people. He is the first Prime Minister to have spoken of sanitation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, on August 15, 2014. In his scheme of things, sanitation is social transformation and is as, if not more, important than economic transformation.

Mission on course

How are we faring on the toilet construction front? In the short span of three years, about 50 million toilets have been constructed in rural India, increasing the coverage from 39% to 69% now; another 3.8 million have sprung up in cities and towns and another 1.4 million are presently under construction. As against this, only 300,000 toilets were built during the 10-year period between 2004 and 2014.

So far, 248,000 villages have been resurrected from the ignominy of open defecation; 203 districts, over one-third of the total, have banished open defecation. Five States have declared themselves Open Defecation Free (ODF) in rural areas: Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Haryana. About 1,200 of our cities and towns, about one-third of the total, have already become ODF. More importantly, all ODF claims are scrutinised by third-party independent verification.

One might cynically argue that building toilets is easier than putting them to use. This is valid only up to a point. Credible surveys show that 85% of toilets built under this mission are being used. Long-inculcated or forced habits take time to change, but they definitely will. The alternative to not using toilets is to walk long distances either at night, as is the case mostly with women and girl children, or at sunrise. This is more a forced option and a habit than a preferred choice. Such habits must be made to vanish, and will for sure.

It’s about women

Prime Minister Modi’s mission will work for sure since its success will have the most liberating impact on the women of our country. Surely no one can seriously believe that defecating in the open is a safe and viable option for women.

All houses being built under the ‘Housing for All’ mission will have toilets and the title will vest in the name of women, either individually or jointly. This is about women’s empowerment, freeing them from domestic subjugation besides liberating them from humiliating open defecation.

Proper integration of various components of the sanitation chain such as ensuring water supply, seepage management, sewerage networks, prevention of manual scavenging and solid waste management form the key for the Swachh Bharat Mission. Given the efforts underway to make this chain work, the way forward is towards a Clean India.

Cynics and critics may point at something lacking here or there. They cannot, however, question the need for Swachh Bharat. With such consensus and the evidence available so far, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will work — the only alternative is neither affordable nor viable in an aspirational India. The ongoing mass mobilisation campaign ‘Swachhata Hi Seva’ highlights sanitation as the real service to the nation. We owe a ‘Swachh Bharat’ to the Mahatma on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary in 2019.

Hardeep S. Puri is Minister of State (independent charge), Housing and Urban Affairs




The skewed importance given to rural areas ignores population explosion in the urban areas


Ajay Maken

The key problem with the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is that the government is primarily focussed on promotions and events of a repackaged scheme than its implementation.

The SBM was earlier known as the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan under the UPA government. Moreover, duplicate entries, ghost beneficiaries and missing households were the first stumbling blocks in SBM, as pointed out by researchers from the Accountability Initiative of the Centre for Policy Research in a study conducted in December 2015. The study tracked beneficiaries across 7,500 households in 10 districts and five States. This made even the World Bank jittery, which is why it downgraded the project and refused to release the first instalment of a $1.5 billion loan. The overall ratings have gone down on three parameters in the World Bank report dated February 2, 2017: progress towards achievement of programme development objectives from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘moderately satisfactory’; overall implementation progress from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘moderately unsatisfactory’; and overall risk rating from ‘nil’ to ‘substantial’.

Rural skew

For 2017-18, the government has allocated ₹13,948 crore for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G) project; for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) project, the allocation was merely ₹2,300 crore. This has to be seen in the light of the 2011 Census, according to which 31.16% of the total population lives in urban areas. Also, the growth of population in urban areas is 32% over a decade and rural is 12%. The fact that the urban population is growing at a much more rapid rate has been ignored by the government. As for the national capital, the only instalment the Modi government released to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was in 2014-15; no money has been given since then.

In urban areas, huge landfill sites running beyond capacity are the biggest problem. Decentralisation, segregation of garbage at source, and encouraging community/household treatment of waste is the only viable alternative. These alternatives have been successfully implemented at various places including Alappuzha in Kerala. The Centre for Science and Environment, in its survey of June 2016, assessed Alappuzha as the one of the leading cities in terms of innovation and improvement of the SWM, but the government’s Swachh Survekshan rated it poorly, which reflects the ill-conceived direction of SBM-U and its assessment parameters. Moreover, such an erroneous approach by the government has a cascading effect as government ratings motivate cities and their administration in the right or wrong direction.

Behavioural change

The components of the problem in urban areas are very different from those in rural areas. The SBM has painted both with the same brush. It is only a publicity and construction spree. A case study (Annual Status of Education Report) done in 2016 revealed that as many as 96.5% of rural elementary government schools had toilets, but more than one in four toilets (27.79%) were dysfunctional or locked. Under the SBM, no importance is being given to the upkeep, maintenance and sustainability of these community infrastructures.

The focus of the SBM-G should be on behavioural change; the guidelines also require that 8% of the funds be allocated for information, education and communication activities. But during 2016-17, up to January 2017 only 1% of the total expenditure had been made on information, education and communication. Where did the rest of the money go? Blown away in self-praise ads by the Prime Minister?

Ajay Maken was the Minister for Urban Development and Housing and Poverty Alleviation (2012-13) in UPA II

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