Swachh Bharat Mission – much publicity, imaginary claims, little work

The Swachh Bharat (clean India) Mission was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on 2 October 2014, an ambitious plan to clean India including getting the country rid of open defecation  To raise funds for the mission, a cess of 0.5 % was levied on all taxable services from 15 November 2015. During the first fiscal year an amount of Rs 3,901.7 crore was collected and thereafter till October 2016, nearly a year since its implementation, the Swachh Bharat cess had collected Rs. 9,851.4 crore.

But with the coming in of GST on 1 July 2017, the cess was gone and so was the income there from. No doubt there has to be an adverse affect on the mission in absence of targeted collection.

While the Swachh mission was over-publicized, in practice there was lack of action with cities, even the Capital showing no signs of change.

The government claimed 150 districts in the country out of a total of 679 have been declared open defecation free (ODF), not even half of the total number while the deadline for the Swachh mission to make the country completely open defecation free is by 2 October 2019, on the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

With rural Uttarakhand and rural Haryana claiming to have 100% toilet coverage on 22 June , five states – Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Haryana -were declared ODF by the government.

Five more states -Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Telangana — are expected to go ODF by end of 2017. This is in sharp contrast to the survey report of the NSSO which put the lowest percentage of households having sanitary toilets in Jharkhand (18.8 per cent), Chhattisgarh (21.2 per cent) and Odisha (26.3 per cent). With such low percentage of toilets how can State like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand go open defecation free by the end of this year.

The government claims that all seven Union Territories of India have pledged to become ODF by March 2018. These targets could be hypothetical in view of financial crunch the mission might face.

Merely by declaring a State defecation free, it may not be necessarily be free of open defecation as habits die hard in rural belt and even in the suburban areas where there are maximum cases of open defecation.

The railway tracks in and around the Capital are a favourite haunt of those used to open defecation. Trains coming from Western Railway are greeted by people defecating on the tracks right inside the capital each morning. Similar is the position for trains coming from Southern railway. Those defecating on the tracks are perched like crows in a row not bothered about train movement on the tracks. 

Not only the railway tracks, but open fields around the Capital bear testimony to open defecation. Similarly, construction sites around the Capital are common places where one can witness open defecation.

The government has claimed 64 per cent increase in the number of toilets from 2014-15 to 2015-16.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission (rural) the government gives a support of Rs.12000 for building a toilet whereas majority of toilets in the rural belt cost about 20,000. Such toilets have soak pits that need to be emptied manually which is yet another concern for the users.

It is for such reasons that they find defecating in the open easy and carefree. No amount of advertising by the government can divert these people from defecating in the open.

A nation-wide survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office found out that more than half of the rural population opts for open defecation. The survey estimated that 52.2 per cent of people in rural areas chose to defecate in the open as compared to 7.5 per cent in the urban areas.

The Swachh Bharat Mission along with ODF seems to be a game of numbers, of toilets built and States declaring ODF; the ground reality is different.

Publicity seems to be the key word and those enjoying the fruits of this public campaign are Bollywood stars. The recently launched ‘Darwaza Band’ campaign for promoting use of toilets and giving up defecating in the open was done in the presence of Bollywood idol Amitabh Bachchan and yet another star  and the whole project is being handled by a prominent advertising agency.

Such has been the hype that a senior bureaucrat of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation even declared that ”the number of people defecating in the open has reduced from 55 crore in May 2014 to 35 crore in May 2017.” Did he actually assign people for a head count of those defecating in the open in 2014 and 2017?

———Amit Mittal———

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