What happened to Clean India mission?

Seven months after the Swachh Bharat launch, excitement has given way to a hushed silence.

A national exuberance erupted when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014. For weeks following the launch, newspapers and TV channels were agog with stories of cleanliness drives and beamed countless pictures of people queuing up on roads with brooms and dustbins. Litters, momentarily, became a national obsession.

Seven months later, the excitement has given way to a hushed silence; the idea of cleanliness suddenly vanished in thin air. As the government seems resolute on pushing forward with Clean India campaign, to ensure its success, it will require innovative ways to enrol people’s participation, in addition to introducing strict legislations.

The mission has as its key objectives, elimination of open defecation, conversion of insanitary toilets into pour flush toilets, eradication of manual scavenging, optimum collection and scientific disposal and recycling of municipal solid waste, behavioural change regarding healthy sanitation practices, awareness among citizens about sanitation and its linkages with public health, supporting urban local bodies in waste disposal systems, and facilitating private-sector participation in capital expenditure and operation and maintenance costs for sanitary facilities.

There is an overwhelming emphasis on rural sanitation in the programme. Most of the components involve attitudinal and behavioural change, and it is here that the biggest challenge of implementation lies. Since independence, successive governments have attempted to address the issue of sanitation and public health, with little to moderate success.

According to WHO, in 2012, there were 626 million Indians who were still using open defecation, which was 59 per cent of the total people in world using open defecation. It was also estimated that India had 97 million people had no access to improved sources of drinking water.

One of the key reasons for the failure of the successive government programmes on cleanliness could have been the lack of focus on ensuring people’s participation. There may also have been yawning gaps in allowing people the choice of, what sociologists call, empowerment participation where primary stakeholders take part in decision making and the pre-decided outcomes are not imposed.

Way back in the 1950s, Brazilian adult educator Paulo Freire who worked with poor peasants in the country, designed participatory communication approach which empowered peasants to formulate their own demands for a better life.

This model works especially well in rural environment. The government could consider implementation strategies on Swachh Bharat Mission within a broader framework of this community-led approach of development and change. What is good, with the high penetration of television and newspapers in rural India, this job becomes relatively easier as there is at least an `in principle’ consensus among people on the need for sanitation.

Disregard for cleanliness

In urban India, we have seen blatant disregard for cleanliness and hygiene. Filth, garbage and defacement of public and private spaces are rampant. From big cities to small towns, small offices to big public spaces, parks to temples, railway stations to airport, hospitals to colleges, dirt is on most prominent display. The quick-spit-in-the-corner is a national habit. And when Prime Minister Modi spoke of the change while launching SBM, he must have been referring to such glaring muck in modern Indian lives that has become a way of life.

Not surprisingly, those at the helm of the programme must note that this is a serious cultural issue and requires Herculean efforts at attitudinal and behavioural change among people. To translate the idealistic proclamations of the prime minister, a rare, and certainly the first in history of Independent India – we need massive social and cultural awakening. The hackneyed methods of driving social change will not work.

When the then Indonesian President Suharto launched the Dua Cukup campaign in 1974, it was fraught with risks as it was against Muslim’s faith. But the strong will coupled with support from the battery of government, military and community agencies, ensured its success. Songs extolling virtues of small and happy family were played out for motorists at traffic lights; those practicing birth control got discounts of up to 30 per cent at cinemas, clinics, pharmacist, gas stations, and grocery stores.

Between 1974 and 1991, fertility declined from an average of 5.6 to 3 births per woman, and the number of couples using contraceptives increased from less than 10 per cent to more than 45 per cent. India’s own success in polio eradication is a classic case study in painstaking design and meticulous implementation for a long period of time.

We do learn that Ministry of Environment and Forests is mulling an amendment that will make littering, throwing waste in the open, dumping electronic waste, defacement of public places and use of banned plastic bags as minor offence with fines on the spot. While this may be a symbolic step forward, achieving Swachh Bharat will require an elephantine will and blend of highly innovative participatory development campaigns.

(The writer is with Fijeeha, adevelopment communication forum)

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