Charity not necessarily begins at home

Six ideas to accomplish a Swachh Bharat

Faizi O Hashmi | November 21, 2017


#Swachh Bharat   #Swachh Bharat Abhiyan   #Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan   #Cleanliness   #Narendra Modi  


Policy planners may already be engaged in analysing why the country does not look cleaner than it was three years ago. The central government has launched several schemes from time to time – Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC, Vajpayee, 1999), Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA, Singh, 2012), Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA, Modi 2014) – for cleaning up the Augean stables, but they have not worked wonders so far. Our cities present a dismal picture of neglect and decay, in every sense of the term, but more so in any adherence to basic culture of keeping our surroundings clean. Despite the targeted schemes running for almost two decades, success has eluded us and the coverage is miniscule. Our towns and villages are full of muck and filth. It may be noted though that the construction of toilets in rural areas has jumped up substantially under SBA, and that is some consolation. But the scourge of open defecation is still visible all around the country’s landscape. It is not only a serious health hazard but also culturally awkward and it crassly  compromises an individual’s dignity. British author Brian W Aldiss, in his The Dark Light Years, observed, “Civilisation is the distance that man has placed between himself and his own excreta.” Attaining that distance would be a colossal task.

At the present rate, the dream of Swachh Bharat by 2019 as announced in 2014 during its launch would be a tall order. These schemes are meant to be community-led and demand-driven sanitation programmes. It would be necessary to find out what has not been working and how to reach the goals set so far. There is no denying that we are confronted with an enormous task, further compounded by sociocultural barriers, economic and geographical disparities, structural inhibitors within the programme formulations, rent-seeking behaviour of the implementers and the resultant siphoning of government grants, etc. Another obstacle is the huge amount of money required to finance the scheme, notwithstanding the Swachh Bharat cess we started paying some years back. But having observed that, we may also want to ask ourselves, what is it that is missing and what innovative thinking might work and push the scheme forward. An attempt is therefore made here to make some common-sense doable suggestions.

First, the Swachhta Abhiyan is by the government, for the people. The government runs huge establishments and large campuses – there are undertakings, like railways and shipyards, stations and airports, factories and bhawans, not to talk of hospitals and schools. Charity must begin from here! These government establishments/buildings have not become more sanitised since the launch of the Swachh Bharat. Where is the demonstration effect? Should we not have impressed the people with how we keep our official premises? This way we could expect them to emulate some living example. Railways, our largest undertaking, which transport 24 million people every day, reeks of muck. Station after station is full of garbage all around, even first-class AC compartments smell foul, toilets are soiled and dirty. The inside of the bhawans in the national capital reeks of urine and there are dump yards on the staircases; their outside is equally dirty.

In short, the government offices have not changed, they don’t lead by example, they don’t inspire or impress. If the government cannot fix its offices, how can it claim to clean the country? There are some honorable exceptions, like the military establishments, which lead by example. They give a presentable picture but they are mostly inaccessible to common citizens.

Be that as it may, we will sound more credible if we can show cleaner faces of our offices and establishments, including stations, bus depots, hospitals and schools. Credibility will give strength to implementation of our programmes. There is no difference in sanitary conditions between a tehsil office and a village mandi, or a marriage office in New Delhi and the DDA’s convenience store. The BDO or the VLW cannot ask the villagers to keep their community halls, panchayat ghars or toilets clean if their own offices and its toilets are dirty. Let charity begin from here, even if it is a forced one. Officials, from the village level to the central secretariat level, must obey and perform, or else be shown the door.

Second, we need to capture the imagination of the nation – impress the populace with the idea. Ideas are the mother of all human developments. How to build an informed, cultured and healthy narrative around an idea and not an individual, repeat, not an individual, should be our concern. We have many charismatic public figures but still their appeal may be constrictive, compared to a widely acceptable idea that would rise above other considerations. The idea is to be marketed as an attractive proposition that will impact the life of the people (‘targeted group’) and the image of the country like never before. The creative professionals can be put to the job. Let us appeal to the psyche of the masses; let their imagination connect to the idea in a way that the likely impact of the scheme is experienced and absorbed. This can be linked to pride also, an important human emotion about place – gaon, shehar, kshhetra, desh – not necessarily in that order – and identity (a secular-social refrain).

Third, to facilitate the deposition by public of the litter and its removal by the civic agencies have to be regular and necessary feature of the cleanliness campaign. All public spaces have to be provided with user-friendly receptacles for putting the litter and they must be regularly emptied. Overflowing bins present a hideous picture, apart from being a huge repellent for users. Similarly, dirty spots are an invitation for dumping of more garbage. A common citizen, even in the absence of a bin, would hesitate to throw litter in a clean spot but he may not be so diffident if he finds a dump of garbage in the next block. The efficiency of the cleaning mechanism and identification of the hotspots are therefore equally crucial for the success of the Swachhta Mission.

Fourth, once having made the provision, the next vital move should be the recognition of a malaise – the ‘low cost of our transgression’ – lower the cost, higher the transgression – is the maxim. This is the curse of our law-less society. Its opposite is equally true and more relevant for us. It must be understood that a higher cost creates a psychological barrier against petty civic offences. If the shopkeeper knows that for throwing a polybag full of litter in the neighbouring drain, the charge could be 1,000 bucks he is likely to desist, which may not be the case if the fine was ten rupees. High cost to offenders’ delinquency must be built in to fight the nuisance of littering, spitting, urinating in public and such other insanitary activities. This deterrence is well built in the systems all over the world, and even in Asian cities. This writer had introduced fines for civic offences in the municipal limits of Port Blair in 1999 and it had worked wonderfully.

Fifth, good enforcement of civic regulations cannot be substituted by anything. That is why we flash the example of Singapore, etc. This again is a government activity and we cannot make lofty claims if our own machinery is bungling. The law-enforcers can’t be allowed to work as law-breakers – work for profit – despite good pay packets and reasonably good perks. It is time to link pay with performance or some other stringent regulation to extract compliance.

Sixth, an information education campaign (IEC) for mindset change is an imperative. Civic virtues and civic consciousness are not inculcated from young age. Broom your house and shop, and push the refuse on to the street. Nobody owns the street, the park, the market place, the monuments. Many years ago, there was a TV commercial showing a person throwing a banana peel in the drawing room, cut to voice over – ‘If you don’t do it in your drawing room, why on the street?’ – another voice over, ‘kachra kudedaan me hi dalen.’ We have to catch them young. Healthy habits have to be inculcated from early school days – there is no short cut for mindset change – waiting for a generation or two would also not be too long but begin we must. Let this be linked to a sanitary awakening of our people, a social resurgence, our true spiritual leaders have harped upon.

The Swachh Bharat Mission is to be accomplished by 2019. It would be instructive to quote what Gandhiji wrote in ‘Young India’ in 1919, reminiscing about Haridwar Kumbh Mela, where he had gone earlier, “I had gone there full of hope and reverence. But while I realised the grandeur of the holy Ganga and the holier Himalayas, I saw little to inspire me in what man was doing in this holy place…Thoughtless ignorant men and women use for natural functions the sacred banks of the river where they are supposed to sit in quiet contemplation and find God. They violate religion, science and the laws of sanitation.” 

Hashmi was in the IAS, and is now a consultant to the government of Delhi.


(The article appears in the November 30, 2017 issue)

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