Who’s the cleanliest of them all?

Moa Jamir


Reducing Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to publicity is a tragedy
On October 2, 2014, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan , a mission to clean India’s cities and villages. Coinciding with Gandhi Jayanti, Modi said at the launching of the high-decibel campaign that, “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his one-hundred-and-fiftieth birth anniversary in 2019.”


The much-hyped campaign had celebrities, politicians, academic institutions, government entities and common citizens organising ‘cleanliness drives’ across the country. Posing with a broom became suddenly chic. Cities around India are competing for a ‘smart city’ tag.


On the eve of its third anniversary, the campaign has been so successful that the personnel of certain paramilitary forces posted in Nagaland, finding no garbage to clean, decided to address the matter by littering the compound of a school, then take images of themselves cleaning the mess.


A video clip of Assam Rifles personnel ‘caught in the act’ of allegedly stage-managing a Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in Mokokchung town has gone viral and drawn flak from various quarters. It was not only the audacity of the act that generated consternation amongst the general public, but it was also seen as a move to tarnish the image of the clean school campus or places in the town.


The alleged act is both unfortunate and tragic at different levels. It is unfortunate because if there is any entity in India whose credential for cleanliness is undoubtedly flawless, it is the various defence organisations. A visit to any of their dwelling areas would attest to the same.


It is a tragedy as symbolism and hubris have become the order of the current dispensation, which had compelled, an organisation with an impeccable track record on cleanliness, to allegedly resort to dubious means for publicity and scoring brownie points from the centre.


Now there is a general understanding that the mission has been reduced to a sham with many instances of garbage being dumped purposely in several occasions to enable the participants, ironically, to be ‘shot in the act.’


Most recently, volunteers purportedly had to arrange ‘garbage’ for Union Minister Alphons Kannanthanam so that he “can clean the otherwise well-maintained area of India Gate in the national capital as a part of the fortnight-long ‘Swachhta Hi Sewa’ (Cleanliness is Service) campaign.” Different reviews of the progress of the five-year Swachh Bharat Mission also suggest the campaign so far has been more of symbolism rather than inducing any substantial changes on the ground.


Cleanliness, every Indian would concur, is the need of the hour and the motive behind the mission is never in question.


But it will be more successful if the campaign focuses more on instilling the idea of cleanliness as the fundamental responsibility of every Indian citizen, rather than reducing it to a one-off photo opportunity for various stakeholders.


It also necessitates strengthening civic infrastructure and various individual involved in cleaning activities round the clock. Providing a decent work environment to the sanitation and civic works will be crucial in achieving the objective, not just citizen’s voluntarism.


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