India is in the fourth year of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, the pet campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but cleanliness as a habit ‘next to godliness’ has proved difficult to acquire for most Indians. Some social scientists think our casteist mentality is to blame, because for millennia the onerous task of cleaning up had been assigned to particular castes, who continue to bear the burden to this day. Others point out that the country is still not wealthy enough to allocate good money for effective sewage transportation and disposal. Our cleanliness planners still bank upon standalone toilets with microbes or other agents to neutralise human waste, but such solutions are yet to show consistent results. As for treating solid waste, various metros are experimenting with converting biodegradable waste to compost and plastics to fuel. But for an all out cleanliness campaign that will complete five years on October 2019, the country on the whole is still far removed from achieving even ODF (open defecation free) status. The key is supposed to be behavioural change, or a change in mindset. Sometimes though, how people of other countries perceive this universal problem can be a revelation. Take the ongoing World Cup in Russia, for example. After Japan prevailed over Colombia 2-1, ecstatic Japanese fans deferred their celebrations just a wee bit as they went about cleaning the stadium before exiting. Why did they do this on foreign soil? Maybe because the Japanese are drilled from an early age to take care of their own garbage. Is it because Japan is a wealthy country that its people can afford to indulge this habit? Let us therefore look to Senegal, whose football team too won its opener against Poland. As Senegalese fans earned much goodwill for cleaning up thereafter, it was ascribed to their ‘African tradition’ of leaving a place as clean, if not cleaner, as it had been found. If true, it can indeed be adopted as a universal mantra for a planet choking in pollution and warming up alarmingly.
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February 19, 2019
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay (A noted management economist and an international commentator on business and economic affairs. He may be reached at m...