In a new year, people make new resolutions in their wish to make a new beginning. They clean up their persol space, make their homes spick and span and re-organize their work agenda. But collectively as a people, Indians still have far to go before they get to live in a clean country. The five-year deadline to achieve ‘Clean India’ by Gandhi Jayanti in 2019 may yet prove much beyond reach, unless its people literally clean up their act fast. The season of festivals, picnics and marriages is upon us now, so it would do well to pause awhile and consider how much garbage we are putting out while having a good time. By all accounts, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is sputtering and falling behind, a little more than one year after its launch on October 2, 2014. The countrywide mission to clean up cities and villages aims to consolidate and broadbase the earlier Total Sanitation Campaign and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. It comes with an initial estimated cost of around Rs 62,000 crore, of which one-fourth will be contributed by the Centre and the rest expected to be raised by the States, local bodies and private players. A five-year deadline has been set to complete this mission by Gandhi Jayanti in 2019, when the country will be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
It was the Father of the tion who set so much by store on cleanliness that he once commented, “Sanitation is more important than political independence.” As far back in 1925, he had written in Young India: “We can no more gain God’s blessing with an unclean body than with an unclean mind. A clean body cannot reside in an unclean city”. There were some who sneered at the Mahatma for his obsession with cleanliness and making a ‘fetish’ out of toilets. But he saw farther than his countrymen, for India continues to be one of the filthiest countries in the world with the second largest population. On World Toilet Day on 19 November last, it came out that 60.4 percent of people in India still ‘do not have access to safe and private toilets’. And even as the Congress takes pot shots at Prime Minister rendra Modi for trying to steal its ‘Nirmal Bharat’ thunder with his ‘Swachh Bharat’, has there been any change in the behavior of most people in the country? Over 1 crore toilets have been built in the first year of the mission, but not even half these toilets are being used.
A survey by the tiol Sample Survey Office (NSSO) has revealed that while 46 percent of 95 lakh toilets built in rural India are being used, the figure is barely 50 percent even in urban areas. NSSO surveyors reportedly found households continuing to use toilets for storing grain while going to the fields every morning to relieve themselves. The only bright spot is provided by the Northeast states, with some areas in the region said to be recording 100 percent usage of newly built toilets. Some households here were even found to be allowing less fortute neighbours to use their pucca toilets. Surely this is heartening, and there seems to be much scope to build upon the culture of cleanliness enjoined by many societies here. Overall, the survey found that only 20-25 percent of the toilet construction target has been achieved, with the results are even more dismal on the garbage magement front. Thus even as bringing about behavioral change in cleanliness among the people continues to be the focus of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it really needs to complete the physical infrastructure. Toilets will be used only if these are serviced by municipal systems; however, green technologies like standalone bio-toilets also need to be encouraged. As for tackling waste accumulation effectively, the complete chain from separation of dry and wet garbage at source to processing in landfills has to be in place. This is the government’s lookout, but cleanliness is as much a matter for every one of us. A realistic, positive New Year resolution may not be out of place here — that each of us takes utmost care to leave our surroundings cleaner for being here.