Swachh Bharat is Anything But Rudderless – and ‘Deccan Chronicle’ Ought to Know Better

The Deccan Chronicle editorial “Clean India: More to do”, published October 4, 2017, dismisses the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with its trenchant judgement “The Swachchh [sic] Bharat programme appears rudderless.” In sum, the editorial claims that despite “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exhortation for the past three years,” the campaign “has not produced the hoped-for results”. From supposedly failing projects and fund shortages to the plight manual scavengers, the editorial throws everything it believes is a case against the mission, before concluding with the hackneyed allegation that the campaign is a mere photo-op. For the benefit of the paper and the cause public information, let us then take a look at what precisely has been going on within the remit of the programme.

Nature of the Mission

The first fact that must be kept in mind about Swachh Bharat, which completed three years on Monday, October 2, is that it has been designed as a largescale, umbrella national project. As such, it covers the length and breadth of the country, and in both urban and rural areas. It is but natural that the rate or extent of completed missions or successes till date may vary, as local socio-economic-governance conditions in a country as big as India tend to differ widely from region to region.

Nevertheless, simply the scale and scope of the mission ought to put to rest contentions that it is merely a smartphone enabled window-dressing or unsubstantiated claims, or even a mere photo-op. But it is when we look at the data on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and its related activities that we get the real picture – and that does not appear to be one of a rudderless vessel.

The Data

Let us look at the Swachh Bharat data.

Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (as of October 4, 2017):

  • 5,02,07,954 household toilets have been built.
  • 2,58,678 villages are Open Defecation Free (ODF).
  • 217 districts are ODF.
  • 6 states are ODF.
  • 4,464 ODF villages fall within the ambit of the Namami Gange programme.
  • Total household toilet coverage in rural India has increased from 38.7% on October 2, 2014 to 68.05% as of now.
  • Number of toilets constructed has accelerated sharply, growing by 257.2% between 2014-15 and 2016-17.

Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (as of October 4, 2017):

  • 30,74,229 individual toilets have been built.
  • 2,26,274 community & public toilets have been built.
  • 1,150 cities are ODF.
  • 44,650 wards have achieved 100% door-to-door waste collection.
  • 4 MW waste to energy production has been achieved.
  • 1,64,891.6 MT waste to compost production was recorded in 2016.

Since 68% of India’s population lives in rural areas, the importance of Swachh Bharat-Gramin and the imperative of its success cannot be gainsaid. However, the facts and data presented above would appear to soundly refute the Deccan Chronicle’s claims that the mission is “rudderless”, without a “roadmap” and has failed to produce the desired results.

Messaging & Behavioural Change

A few words may also be said about some of the other allegations made by the editorial. For instance, Swachh Bharat, as a public and publicity campaign, has been using well-known public/ popular figures like actors, sportspersons, politicians, etc. But this does not appear to have been intended as, nor ended up as, a mere photo-op. The participation of persons of social eminence is meant primarily as a messaging instrument, an inspiration and call to the wider public. The Swachchata hi Sewa campaign, too, saw the participation of various Union ministries, public figures and celebrities, evidently to strengthen the Swachh Bharat Mission.

While the editorial ridicules the repeated appeals made to the public for joining the mission and becoming pro-active in keeping their environment clean, surely it does not intend to deny the importance of the emphasis on behavioural change?

Behavioural change is thus a primary focus of the Swachh Bharat Mission and the state has been focusing sharply on campaigns to inspire and inculcate discipline. Behavioural change is being pursued through a countrywide comprehensive IEC (Information-Education-Communication) programme. Communication campaigns have been taken up at both Central and state levels for promoting the sustained use of toilets and for sustaining the ODF status, wherever achieved.

The editorial’s complaint about those involved in the degrading work of manual scavenging, too, should be seen against the backdrop of what Swachh Bharat is achieving. Manual scavenging has tended to persist in the vicinity of dry latrine systems. The contribution of Swachh Bharat and its potential for alleviating the condition of manual scavengers will perhaps become clearer if we take a look at the data pertaining to the two chapters of the mission, rural and urban. But it must also be remembered that Swachh Bharat can only work in tandem with legal provisions and other steps vis-à-vis manual scavenging.

Those legal provisions and state action which Swachh Bharat would complement are below:

  • Manual scavenging was banned in India in 1993.
  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 outlaws manual cleaning of excrement from insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits and also imposes fines on those who construct dry latrines.
  • Employing scavengers or constructing dry (non-flush) latrines can invite imprisonment up to one year and/ or a fine of Rs 2,000.
  • To assist Dalit families in quitting scavenging, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment offers a one-time aid of Rs 40,000 along with skill-development training.
  • The Ministry of Urban Development, under Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban, provides a grant of Rs 4,000 for conversion of insanitary latrines.

The facts and data pertaining to Swachh Bharat would appear to be answer enough to the editorial, illustrating the reality that the mission is not about photo-op or declamations.