Reality of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

As India is going to the Lok Sabha polls next year, it is time to evaluate the strengths and flaws of the ruling party. Opposition will be focusing more on the fatal flaws of the BJP-led government. For the common people, a look back is necessary.In the last four years, Indians became the onlookers for many programmes and many changes from demonetisation to GST and faced many issues from the Rohingya crisis to the Doklam stand-off. One of the strongest programmes undertaken by Modi, led by the BJP government was Swachh Bharat.

Swachh Bharat (SBA), Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) or Clean India Mission is a cleaning campaign that was launched on 2nd October 2014 at Rajghat, New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It aims to achieve an open-defecation free India by 2nd October 2019, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, by constructing 90 million toilets in rural India at a protected cost of Rs. 1.96 crore. “Satyagrah se Swachhagrah” was the statement used by Modi when the programme was launched in reference to Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha on 10 April 1917. Does the credit of this mission solely go to the BJP government? The answer is no because the fact is that, on 1st April 2000, a Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme was resurrected, renamed and launched as Total Sanitation Programme (TSP) which was later renamed “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan” by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. These programmes played very minor roles in reducing open defecation. Finally when NDA rose into power, “Nirmal Swachh Abhiyan” was restructured by the cabinet approval on 24th September 2014 as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

However, unlike the previous programmes, this one is more successful in spreading awareness among the general populace. Soon it was realised that while being compared to other missions, this one was a high profile programme that enjoyed extra-ordinary political and budgetary support. The percentage of latrines extended to rural areas has increased from 39% in 2014 to 62% in 2018. The most important advantage has been attained by women who suffer silently in the absence of latrines.

Cleaning India is not just about keeping the surroundings clean and staying healthy, it is also about eradicating one of the biggest and deep rooted evils in Indian society : manual scavenging. Many will be surprised to know that there are people who still earn their daily bread through scavenging. Last year in Tamil Nadu, around 30 people died in the month of July and all of them were engaged in this activity. Manual scavenging still exists in India because of the lack of toilets and due to the existence of unsanitary latrines. Out of these unsanitary latrines, about 2.6 million require cleaning by hand, according to the activist organisation Safai Karmachari Andolan. This is what the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan should really start working on. The central government which directly runs the self employment scheme for the rehabilitation of these workers, has reduced from Rs. 448 crore in 2014-15 budget to Rs. 5 crore this year.

In spite of naming this scheme as one of the Prime minister’s favourite programmes, such a negligence in the budget is incongruous. If manual scavenging should be stopped then the mindset of people should be changed. Many communities still consider the inclusion of sanitary toilet as ritual and physical pollution of the house, while some others want toilets bigger than the ones recommended by WHO. Moreover, people still believe in the caste system so deeply that they think that Dalits will be ready to do the cleaning job instantly. For these people, Dalits are supposed to clean latrines. But the most disappointing fact is that laws on punishment or laws in general exist only on paper. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 was strictly enforced in Tamil Nadu in the wake of the death of 30 manual scavengers last year. But still there is no change in the situation. This is not just the case of a single state but this is the deplorable condition of manual scavengers in the entire nation.

Empowerment is the only solution to curb this evil. People engaged in manual scavenging should be introduced to different means of earning a livelihood. Self-employment should be encouraged to further raise their confidence. Bharat would really become swachh if these caste barriers are shattered. The novel “Untouchable” by Mulk Raj Anand centers around a manual scavenger and it ends on the note of the protagonist dreaming of the day when flushing toilets would be introduced and he would be free from his filthy task. Flushing toilets or at least proper latrines are much needed. Therefore, let us hope that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan would really make Bharat swachh.

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