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28 October, 2014

Hyped clean India plan

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has generated popular enthusiasm for the Mahatma Gandhi Swachh Bharat (Clean India) programme which he launched four weeks ago, but it is too narrowly focused to achieve the proclaimed goal in the stipulated five-year period.

On October 2, birth anniversary of the Mahatma, Modi wielded the broom in a sweepers’ colony in Delhi, where Gandhi had stayed in 1946, and declared, “We should aim for Swachh Bharat.”

The Congress party, while in power, had sought to keep Gandhi’s message of Clean India alive with periodic official campaigns and token street-cleaning on his birth anniversary. In 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first prime minister, AB Vajpayee, launched a Nirmal Bharat (which, too, translates as Clean India) programme. It was to run till 2019 but has now been superseded by Swachh Bharat.

Responding to Modi’s appeal, some film and sports celebrities also took up brooms, generating euphoria about the programme. The Central ministries announced various schemes to realise the Clean India dream.

The ministry dealing with drinking water and sanitation proposed increased monetary support to rural households and schools to build toilets. The Human Resources Development Ministry sought corporate funds to provide toilet facilities in schools, especially for girls.

A law enacted by the United Progressive Alliance government last year requires a company to set apart two per cent of its net profit for social responsibility projects if it has a net worth of Rs5 billion or more, a turnover of Rs10 billion or more or a net profit of Rs50 million or more.

Surprisingly, there was no word from the government-owned railways, one of the biggest polluters. Of its 50,000-odd coaches, only a little more than 2,000 have bio-toilets. The rest discharge human waste on the rail tracks.

The railways had recently told the National Human Rights Commission that it needed time till 2022 to equip all coaches with bio-toilets.

Although excavations have revealed that underground drainage system was known to the Indus Valley civilisation that flourished 4,000 years ago, much of the subcontinent has been without basic sanitary facilities throughout known history and defecation in the open is still prevalent, especially in the rural areas where two-thirds of the population lives.

With 310 million people in more than 5,000 cities and towns, India boasts of the second largest urban population in the world. However, most urban areas lack satisfactory sanitation services.

A law enacted in 1993 made employment of scavengers and construction of non-flush latrines offences punishable with imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of Rs2,000. However, no conviction under this law has been reported from anywhere.

Despite the ban manual scavenging continued. When the Supreme Court was considering a batch of petitions questioning it, several states filed affidavits claiming they had no manually serviced latrines. However, the 2011 census report revealed the existence of 2.6 million insanitary latrines, including about 800,000 manually serviced ones.

Uttar Pradesh had more than 326,000 manually serviced latrines, West Bengal more than 180,000 and Jammu and Kashmir more than 178,000.

Reports from Gujarat, of which Modi was the chief minister for 13 years before becoming the prime minister, are far from edifying. An NGO was told in reply to a query under the Right to Information Act, that 98 manual scavengers had died in the state during the past decade and that the families of 43 of them had not been paid compensation.

Official data puts the number of manually serviced latrines in Gujarat at a mere 2,566 but the state has more than 52,000 scavengers awaiting rehabilitation under the new law.

Last year the UPA government enacted a new law which provides for ending manual scavenging as well as rehabilitating those involved in the activity, who are all Dalits.

While the indifference of the general public is a serious handicap in tackling sanitation problems, the brouhaha over the Swachh Bharat programme has led to a wholly erroneous impression that if only people keep their neighbourhood clean all will be well.

The programme does not take into account industrial pollution, which is bound to see enormous growth as Modi pulls out the plugs to attract investments and make the country a manufacturing hub. The industries identified for foreign direct investment include highly polluting ones like chemicals, pharmaceuticals and leather. Dilution of pollution control clearance procedures is one of the steps contemplated to attract investors.

Modi, who was elected to Parliament from the ancient city of Varanasi, located on the banks of the Ganga, has vowed to clean the river which the Hindus consider holy. He has created a separate department for Ganga rejuvenation in his government and entrusted it to the saffron-clad Uma Bharti. She recently said cremations on the river bank and dumping of half-burnt bodies in the river would be stopped. She was silent when a Hindu saint’s body was dumped in the river last week, apparently in keeping with a tradition. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 28, 2014.

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