Monday, September 21, 2020

Editor's Space

The Clean Opportunity

Tokenism has become a gold standard across India’s political firmament ever since the country gained independence 67 years ago with netas and minders of government, promising the hoi polloi the moon and everything beyond it – before, during and after the elections. Ergo, it is easy to understand cynicism when Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose October 2 – Gandhi Jayanti – to launch an all out assault on the Mt Everest of ever accumulating filth that the towns and cities of Bharat have today become. Whatever the compulsions of the current leadership to pick up a very long overdue cause, it is a fact that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has set rolling a cleanliness juggernaut that has very far reaching implications for the country.


What is remarkable is that the campaign looks to go beyond symbolism as India, the world’s biggest Squatter’s Colony, seeks to clear the mounting detritus of sanitary bad practices. These are practices which are not necessarily of the citizen’s own volition, but more the outcome of governmental apathy. Successive governments – both at the State and the Centre – have failed to provide toilets and sanitary facilities. 43 per cent of the toilets built in rural India are either missing or defunct. There has even been a case where toilets supposedly built under a government scheme existed only on paper. The outcome of this colossal neglect is that close to 600 million, or 48 per cent, of India’s population defecates in the open. It is a shame that India which has just successfully sent a craft to orbit Mars has a sanitation record – in terms of people defecating in the open – which beats Bangladesh, a country it liberated, by many million filthy miles.


That chaos extends to other areas of the Indian sanitation universe. The phenomenal absence of effective waste collection and disposal mechanisms, rivers and water bodies strewn with industrial pollutants and dead bodies, not to mention a national lack of adherence or accountability to public cleanliness.


Against that morbid background the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan comes as a godsend. The fact that there is a deadline assigned for the achievement of a totally clean nation, October 2, 2019, and there are funds earmarked for that objective, is significant enough. It gives all the stakeholders – individuals, institutions, communities, NGOs, urban local bodies, corporates, environmentalists, manufacturers of cleantech products, and finally the government at the helm – a sense of purpose and urgency.


All of this must be backed by the spread of awareness for a clean environment.


India must convert its growing islands of waste into an opportunity in order to become a great nation with healthy socio economic indicators. That would be the best tribute the nation could pay the man everyone knows as the Mahatma.


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