By M Venkaiah Naidu
Over the last seventy years, India has made tremendous progress in its development journey. Yet, huge challenges remain. One of them is lack of adequate sanitation. Gandhiji had once famously said, “Sanitation is more important than political freedom”. This statement underscores the criticality of sanitation in society.
It is worth noting that poor sanitation has been one of the causes of diarrhoea killing over 100,000 children every year. It also leads to physical and cognitive stunting in children and a potentially less productive future workforce. Open defecation is also an issue that is inextricably connected to human dignity, especially the dignity and safety of women. Studies have shown that good sanitation can save Rs 50,000 per year per family.
We are aiming at a new India- an India which is clean, skilled, educated, healthy, prosperous and inclusive. The ‘Swachhta Hi Seva’ campaign being launched on 15th of September to mark the third anniversary of The ‘Swachh Bharat’ programme is a major step to address the poor sanitary conditions across the country impacting the health and overall quality of life of the people. While the Union government, the state governments and the local bodies provide the overall direction and leadership, the pace and quality of implementation will considerably be enhanced and the gains will be sustained only if the people get actively involved.
Three years ago, when it was realised that over half of the country still defecated in the open, nearly 70 years after Independence, it was clearly unacceptable. It was rightly seen as an impediment to our aspirations of becoming an economic superpower. On August 15, 2014, the Prime Minister gave a clarion call to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort to collectively fight filth and open defecation, change old habits, and achieve a Swachh Bharat by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji.
Three years on, the SBM has made significant progress and has successfully captured the collective imagination of the nation. The number of Indians defecating in the open is estimated to have reduced to 30 crore, from about 55 crore in 2014. Over 2,35,000 villages, 1300 cities, 200 districts and 5 states have been declared open defecation free (ODF). All villages along the banks of the Ganga have been declared ODF. Over 50% of urban wards have door to door collection of municipal solid waste. Almost 5 crore toilets have been constructed in rural and urban areas, all this in less than three years. But there is still more work to be done.
The SBM is at a tipping point, from where a major push is expected to spiral it into a massive Jan andolan, a people’s movement. The Prime Minister has made another call to the nation to participate in the “Swachhta Hi Seva” campaign to come out and get directly involved with the SBM by offering shramdaan for Swachhta in the fortnight leading up to Gandhi Jayanti.
This campaign aims to mobilise people from across the country, especially government functionaries across all levels, local leaders, youth groups, women, school children, defence personnel, corporate ,celebrities, faith organizations and citizens at large to offer shramdaan to construct twinpit toilets and clean public places like railway stations, bus stands, parks, markets, hospitals, schools etc. Recognizing the need to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of our natural endowments and places of cultural heritage like places of worship, heritage sites and beaches, they are likely to be given a face lift.
We as a country must pledge our support to this sacred mission and do whatever is possible to make our country clean, free of open defecation and all government and civil society organizations as well as the private sector should focus on solid waste management through promotion of city compost and set up Waste-to-Energy plants. It is an enormous challenge but if we put our heads and hearts together it is not a mission impossible.
We cannot achieve sustained progress if we adopt a business as usual approach. We should collectively search for innovative solutions that will make a tangible difference to the lives of the people. This is the responsibility that all municipal and village Panchayats must take as a sacred mission, not a mere job or chore. It is possibly the best and the most sincere tribute to the father of the nation who was so passionate about it. It is an opportunity for each one of us to show that we care, that we care about our country and our fellow citizens.
There is an enormous set of challenges before us. Universal literacy, providing quality education, especially for girls, fostering skill development and entrepreneurship, enhancing access to affordable, quality health services, water and sanitation are some of the areas in which the country should focus its efforts. I believe we have to take up these issues in a concerted, systematic manner as societal missions.
We must not leave any filth uncleaned and make this a constant habit to make our surroundings clean. Civic consciousness is crucial and I appeal to everyone to come forward and get involved with Swachhta Hi Seva, keep up the momentum beyond the fortnight of campaign on a continuous basis so that the nation takes a leap towards a Swachh Bharat. The first step towards a developed India is to create a clean and hygienic and therefore a healthy India.
(The author is the Vice-President of India)