March 03, 2022
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation and the torchbearer of the cleanliness and sanitation campaign in India, emphasized the importance of hygiene even before we were independent. Following his footsteps, Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the initiative of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan on 2nd October 2014—the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. He hailed this initiative as a way to honour the vision of Gandhi Ji. The scope of this mission was to make our villages, Gram Panchayats, Districts, States, and Union Territories "Open-Defecation Free (ODF)" over the next five years by constructing over 100 million toilets in rural India.
As of 2014, sanitation coverage in India was as low as 39%. Around 55 crore people in rural areas were without a toilet facility before 2014, resulting in open defecation. This was severely impacting the health, and also the dignity of people in rural areas, especially of women and children.
In order to streamline and govern the implementation part of the Swacch Bharat Mission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was himself the commander-in-chief of the entire program. He personally contacted more than 250,000 Gram Pradhans and encouraged them to improve their sanitation services.
The idea to address anyone volunteering for the Swacch Bharat Mission as Swacchagrahi also added new energy and enthusiasm to the Swacchata campaign. These Swacchagrahi members helped in spreading awareness regarding Swacchata and encouraged community members to construct toilets. ‘Swacchtha Hi Seva’ event was also introduced by the Prime Minister that took the shape of a Jan Andolan and helped in connecting youth, religious groups, political workers, self-help groups, and other community members. Iconic initiatives like ‘Saaf Nahi Toh Maaf Nahi’ and ‘Darwaza Band’ also encouraged the idea of the Swacch Bharat Mission and helped in connecting citizens across rural India.
The drive for Swacchata has made considerable progress in the country. In the five years of the campaign (2014-2019), approximately 10 crore toilets have been constructed in all 36 States/UTs and around 6 lakh villages have been declared Open-Defecation Free (ODF). It is estimated that more than 50 crore people have changed their behaviour and started using toilets. Further, there has been a significant reduction in water and sanitation-related diseases.
Apart from rural India, the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan has also provided 100% access to sanitation facilities in urban India. It has prioritized the needs of women, transgender communities, and persons with disabilities as well.
The concept of Swachhta, Swadhinta, and Sulabh is reflected in the efforts and initiatives of all the Ministries of India. An excellent example was SUJALAM, the 100-day campaign initiated by the Ministry of Jal Shakti to create more ODF villages. This was done as part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, beginning on 21st August 2021. This has boosted the momentum of phase-2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin). This second phase shall ensure that the open defecation-free behaviours achieved in the first phase are sustained and that solid and liquid waste management facilities are accessible in villages.
Further, several manuals on greywater management, plastic waste or biodegradable waste management, etc. have also been released to support the States, Districts, and Rural/Local bodies implementing solid and liquid waste management initiatives.
Another great example is the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT2.0) launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. It aims to ‘water secure’ more than 4800 towns. The objective is to promote the circular economy of water by rejuvenating water bodies, reusing treated wastewater, and addressing the water needs of the people; thus enabling them to become more swachh and swadhin.
As India celebrates Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to commemorate 75 glorious years of independence, the sanitation and cleanliness progress of the nation is at the centre stage and poised to remain so to enable a better standard of living for all of India’s citizens.