Will the new broom sweep clean?

Cleanliness is ‘very big work’ for the Prime Minister and hence the emphasis on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The effects of the campaign will primarily be improved hygiene and health, but will go beyond to give a fillip to various sectors of the economy.

Updated - November 29, 2021 01:15 pm IST

Published - October 12, 2014 02:38 am IST

Within days of coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi left many stumped when he chose to address the issue of cleanliness in the country. Even as he spoke of nursing the economy back to health and putting the country on the trajectory of growth, he set a task of “cleaning” India by 2019.

That the issues of cleanliness and sanitation were not perfunctory for him was evident when, in his Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he questioned whether Indians still wanted to live in filthiness.

Pre-empting questions about why a Prime Minister should focus on “cleanliness” when he had pressing issues posed by the economy, national security and electoral politics to attend to, he had a ready reply. “People may feel that it is a trivial work for a Prime Minister, but for me, this is big work. Cleanliness is very big work ... If 125 crore countrymen decide that they will never spread filth, which power in the world has the ability to spread filth in our cities and villages? Can’t we resolve this much?”

That was the cue for the >rolling out of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), which envisages a “Clean India” by 2019.

Led by the Union government, the SBA envisages cleaning every street and corner of the country and in doing so, putting India on the road map to better health and living conditions.

From the time the SBA was flagged off — with Mr. Modi himself wielding the broom — the campaign has not only been a diktat for the Babus to follow or schoolchildren to engage in, but has also drawn the attention of big businesses, IT giants, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, all rolling up their sleeves to be part of this humongous campaign.

If there is a section that says the SBA is mere symbolism, pointing out that sweeping alone cannot address the issue of mounting waste and debris, there is jubilation across the Health and Family Welfare Ministry, the tourism sector and the Urban and Rural Development Ministries for the benefits which the Clean India campaign brings to their respective areas.

“The Prime Minister’s ‘Clean India’ campaign is a big boost for us. Cleanliness brings down the disease burden. If we clean our hospitals and the areas around them, we will automatically bring down the spending on diseases as well. It is a win-win for everyone,” Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan said.

A senior official of the Tourism Ministry said the SBA would give a fillip to India’s campaign to attract tourists. “Even our best promoted tourist destinations are not clean. Look at the Taj Mahal, the roads leading up to the world famous monument are an eyesore. Our holy cities are swathed in waste. Take Varanasi, for example; it draws crowds in millions from every part of the world, but is considered one of the most unclean cities with no waste management. This campaign is a lifeline for the tourism sector, a sunrise sector in India,” the official said.

Blueprints have been drawn up by all government departments to converge with the larger Mission. And to ensure that the SBA goes beyond mere planning and photo-ops, there is intensive monitoring of the work being undertaken.

Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu recently chaired a meeting to take stock of the implementation of the SBA, days after it was flagged off. “The SBA has been launched with good initial impact, but the issue is how to sustain this, how to plan for identified outcomes, how to monitor and coordinate with the States on a regular basis,” he said.

The Minister now calls a meeting daily to monitor the progress of, and to plan for, the SBA. The Ministry has enabled an online platform to allow citizens to network with each other locally and at the national level to follow up on the cleanliness initiative. A national circle, “Swachh Bharat,” has been launched, which already has 1.7 lakh members to exchange ideas on cleanliness, take up appropriate cleanliness activities in their neighbourhoods, share pictures of collective efforts, engage with elected representatives and take the cleanliness campaign forward.

The non-governmental sector, which has been pursuing governments to take up the issues of sanitation, has been eager to partner in the endeavour. Offering suggestions to take the SBA forward, Bharati Chaturvedi, director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, says: “There can be no real solution to waste without waste reduction. We need extended producer responsibility, or making the manufacturer responsible. Existing rules (Plastic Waste [Management and Handling] Rules, 2011) already prescribe EPR for plastic bags and multilayered packaging, such as chips. This has not been done. It must be started today.”

The Prime Minister’s wish for the Mission to become the agenda of the entire country, it seems, is already under way.

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