The ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission launched by the Prime Minister of India in October 2014, has definitely turned out to be a big failure in Assam. Many will recall, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while launching this programme on October 2, 2014, had declared that a clean India would be the best tribute the country and the citizens could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary in 2019. But, with less than three weeks in between to the special Gandhi Jayanti, there is hardly any real cleanliness to be seen across Assam. Kutcha latrines along the roadside welcome visitors to Guwahati, the gateway to the Northeast as one enters the city, whether from Khanapara or from Chandrapur. Kutcha latrines are all over on both sides of the railway track even in the heart of the city, particularly eastward from Gandhibasti.
Citizens continue to throw garbage on drains and natural streams including the Bharalu and Bahini. Travelling by train, particularly between Gossaigaon in the west and Ledo in the east, one can see countless number of kutcha latrines along the railway track in every district of Assam. Likewise, entry points of every town – Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Morigaon, Mangaldoi, Nagaon, Lumding, Hojai, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Nazira, Moran, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Duliajan, Naharkatiya, Digboi, Margherita, Lakhimpur, Silchar, Karimganj – are marked with heaps of malodorous, unpleasant and strongly offensive garbage. Golaghat seems to be the only town that has been struggling to be different and truly clean – and plastic-free too, but then paddy fields appear to be littered with pieces of thermocole boxes that arrive in large numbers in the region with fish imported from Andhra Pradesh.
There have been a series of news items quoting government officials claiming that different districts of Assam have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF); one can also recall seeing pictures and social media posts of a couple of IAS officers functioning as deputy commissioners also receiving awards for making their respective districts Open Defecation Free. Sadly, the ground reality is different. The condition of Kaziranga, Sivasagar, Charaideo – three important tourist destinations of the state – too is not very encouraging, with plastic, polythene, thermocole and all kinds of garbage, both degradable and non-degradable, strewn all over. Shopkeepers along all major roads in Guwahati – GS Road, RG Baruah Road, GNB Road, MRD Road, RP Road, any road for that matter – merrily throw their waste on the pavement or on the road itself, with the Guwahati Municipal Corporation lacking in courage and commitment to take action by imposing fines on such shopkeepers and other traders. Same is the case with rural areas; tall claims even by central government officials in the middle of last year that rural Assam would become one hundred per cent Open Defecation Free by December 31, 2018, has turned out to be false. The call of Prime Minister Modi through words and action to make cleanliness a mass movement has practically fallen on deaf ears in Assam. Repeated directives by the National Green Tribunal to protect Deepor Beel – Northeast India’s only Ramsar Site – from garbage pollution have been grossly disrespected by the GMC, the Guwahati Development Department, GMDA and Pollution Control Board, Assam. MPs, MLAs, ministers and other elected representatives of the people too have followed up the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with the same enthusiasm that they had shown in the first few months.
What the Government of Assam, in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan page of its official website says however is the most disgusting and laughable. It clearly displays a typical bureaucratic practice of ruing about lack of funds, when the reality is that it lacks in the will to work and make things happen. The website says – “Assam is on the verge of a developing state but there is lack of adequate fund for implementing different components of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).” The most surprising part of the website content is that it has not been updated since 2017. Any visitor to the Government of Assam website related to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will find, as on September 14, 2019, the following sentence – “On the basis of all facts & figures, State Mission Directorate envisages to declare Assam, 100% Open Defecation Free households by 2nd October, 2017.” That could be one reason why Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has stopped talking about making Assam a “pradushan-mukta” – pollution-free – state. Sad!