(The writer had recently been to Singapore and was fascinated by its cleanliness. He may be reached at email@example.com)
India is an ancient civilization. It is considered to be a pious nation; its people are very religious. It consists of people of various faiths – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains etc – and they follow their faiths very devotedly. But it is a sad reality that all the cleanliness and piousness is confined only to religious activities or kitchen. We are not concerned about the filth around us everywhere; anywhere one looks, large mounds of dirt will be found. Even after 72 years of Independence, it is shameful that we are infamous for unhygienic behaviour.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very much concerned about this serious issue, and just after taking over charge he showed keen interest in cleanliness as one of his main priorities – to make India clean. The new government soon launched a scheme in the name of “Swachh Bharat Mission” by giving honour and respect to the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi on his 145th birth anniversary on October 2, 2014.
In order to clean the roads and infrastructure of India’s cities, towns and villages, and make India open defecation free (ODF) by 2019, the flagship cleanliness campaign was launched. There had been a very positive and spontaneous response from every corner, and people joined hands to take out various cleanliness as well as awareness programmes. Since the main objective of the Swachh Bharat Mission is to improve the general quality of life in rural areas by promoting cleanliness and hygiene, and by eliminating open defecation, a lot of schemes have been taken up, which includes separate toilets for boys and girls in all government schools, construction of household-owned and community-owned toilets, and provision of clean drinking water to each and every household free of cost.
Though the Prime Minister has given special thrust on the Swachh Bharat Mission with a view to making India clean, sometimes it has been noticed that this programme is not being implemented properly in some parts of the country. It may be due to lack of ignorance of the rural people or lack of proper awareness programmes launched by the government. In some rural areas, people are still used to open defecation in paddy fields due to some superstition. It seems that some lacuna has been left for which people are still not aware of the free toilet scheme of the government as well as the demerits of open defecation.
The Prime Minister has also announced a programme called Special Summer Internship linked to the Swachh Bharat Mission. Through this he has urged college students, NCC and NSS youths, and the students of Nehru Yuva Kendras to spend their summer vacations doing the internship and to come forward and contribute towards the welfare of the society in villages. As part of the internship, students will adopt one or more villages and conduct activities of their choice and contribute to the cause of rural sanitation. The internship will be of at least 100 hours between May 1 and July 31. Students of colleges and universities will be responsible for organizing the logistics for all such activities. In order to encourage the students in this mission and generate awareness among the village people, it was also announced that the interns would get incentives, including credit points, from the University Grants Commission (UGC). At the end of the programme, the best interns would be identified at the state and national levels, and the Swachh Bharat Summer Internship 2018 would be awarded.
Here I would also like to share some of my experiences in Singapore from March 23 to 27 last. Singapore is a small but prosperous island nation, both a city and a country located just off the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia in Southeast Asia. I visited different places there as per our tour itinerary. I saw that everywhere in Singapore there was absolute cleanliness. From footpaths to main streets, public bus stands to airport, kitchens to toilets, they would maintain cleanliness and hygiene. No encroachments, no footpath stalls were seen on the roads; green trees were seen beside the streets; flowers of varied colours were seen blooming on the roadsides. It was a very natural and charming scene. I was also surprised to see the cleanliness of toilets in Singapore, where people were seen sweeping round the clock. You could also feel pleasant fragrance in toilets.
During different conversations, I asked our guide-cum-driver about traffic arrangement and cleanliness in Singapore as I did not notice a single police official on road regulating traffic; vehicles were moving smoothly without traffic congestion and were not blowing any horn too. Moreover, I did not see any unclean or dumping places, which are usually seen in our country. He told us that the citizens of Singapore are very disciplined and dedicated. Also, the law of Singapore is very strict, and hence it is beyond anyone’s imagination to break any law. They obey and follow the traffic rules, and so no police official was seen on any road. However, all the activities or movements of vehicles were monitored through CCTV cameras from different angles. If anybody commits any crime and flees, he will be caught immediately and prosecuted as per law.
The guide also told us that the civic sense of the people of Singapore is very high and so they always maintain cleanliness without any second thought. Further, littering or throwing small items on roads is illegal. Anybody violating the law will be caught, and fine will be realized immediately. Dustbins were seen in different locations, and people invariably used the dustbins. At that time I was thinking about the state of affairs in my own country.
While returning from Singapore, I was carrying a lot of good memories of that city. But I was also trying to concentrate my mind as well as to adjust myself as I would be landing on our motherland in the same old environment of dirt and filth. I was pondering: If a small country like Singapore can change the entire scenario with very limited resources, why cannot our country with a lot of resources do the same? The Swachh Bharat Mission is a dream project of the Prime Minister. Crores of rupees have already been spent in this programme in the greater interest of the public as well as for the development of the country in general. But we are still living in an uncivilized way. The dream of the Prime Minister would become true only if we the citizens were to extend our wholehearted support to the mission, maintain discipline, be responsive, and have some civic sense.