We have never witnessed an unprecedented calamity–health hazard of this scale over the past 100 years. The coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the economy and livelihoods of millions of people, stranded across various parts of the country. But this calamity has only strengthened our resolve towards a “Swasth Bharat”. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi we have embarked on a new path of Swachh Bharat.
We have taken a leap forward to Swasth Bharat and consciously and consistently chartered a road towards sanitisation, hygiene and social norms for a resurgent India. India has done significantly well in curtailing the spread of the global pandemic. The success has come mainly because of timely acceptance of physical distancing, respect and appreciation for frontline workers, preventative adoption of masks, maintenance of proper hygiene and due respect for the lockdown measures.
Many initiatives of the government in the past, such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, have helped develop a sense of responsibility among all, especially, the urban and the rural poor to change deep cultural and social habits concerning the use of toilets and maintaining cleanliness in surrounding areas. The Prime Minister himself highlighted the effectiveness of the Swachh Bharat Mission in popularising cleanliness and hygiene across the entire country during his recent discussion with Microsoft co-founder and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Co-chairman Bill Gates on 14 May 2020.
The Swach h Bharat Mission, one of the first schemes undertaken by the Modi government towards citizen’s health and hygiene, acted as a preparatory step in building/ strengthening healthcare facilities across the entire country. In 2014, when the BJP government came to power for the first time with a thumping majority, around 10 crore rural and 1 crore urban households in India still lacked the enjoyment of a sanitary toilet, and over 55 crore people still practiced open defecation. In a rare speech, the Prime Minister while addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, called for construction of toilets as a national mission.
The aim being simple: to fulfil Bapu’s dream of a clean and a hygienic India which Bapu always held more important than independence. The logo of the Swachh Bharat Mission was later designed to reflect the same. By the time, the country came forward to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on 2October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission throughout the length and breadth of the entire country, intransigently in the form of a national movement with a clear vision to achieve “Clean India” by the time India celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in 2019.
Parameswaran Iyer, an extremely competent IAS officer, was handpicked for the largest cleanliness mission which he performed with a selfless zeal. His has been an exceptional contribution to this mission. Cleanliness for him is dedication. Within no time, the scheme turned out to be a success and was later accounted as one of the best schemes of the Modi government for wide transformational impact on personal and social attitudes, individual and family economies with health benefits to various stratum of the Indian citizenry.
The components of the flagship scheme gradually included construction of household toilets, community and public toilets and even solid waste management. The Prime Minster in his address before the 74th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 27 September 2019 announced the country open defecation-free with 110 million toilets built in the last five years and over 600 million people having access to them. International acclaim followed for the Prime Minister as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation honoured him with the “Global Goalkeeper Award” for his contribution to the cleanliness drive and efforts in improving access to sanitisation in the country.
With India having one of the highest open defecation rates in the world, many international agencies believed a lack of sanitisation as a probable reason for children’s impaired growth or stunting. Approximately 2 lakh children below the age of five used to die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases. With the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, still birth, low birth weight, diarrhoea and malaria among children below five years of age significantly reduced improving child health care and nutrition.
A recent survey conducted by dividing districts on the basis of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) found that there was noteworthy reduction in the total number of cases at IHHL districts for various diseases including: Diarrhoea from around • 6,968 and 5,262 in 2015 to 5,683 and 4,550 in 2019. Malaria from around 761 • and 273 in 2015 to 222 and 113 in 2019. Still births from 540 and • 403 in 2015 to 456 and 368 in 2019. Low birth-weight from • 3,890 and 3,230 in 2015 to 3,686 and 3,198 in 2019. Today, most of the states have achieved the status of 100 per cent IHHL coverage.
Only a few states are yet to achieve their targets. Goa having the lowest IHHL coverage is followed by Odisha and Telangana, whereas Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh are very close to achieving 100 per cent IHHL coverage. Elimination of open defecation has a direct correlation to the dignity and security of women and girls, most of whom are condemned to the fate of having to go out to defecate at odd hours.
The Swachhta mission will act as a catalyst in eliminating gender disparity, with sizeable construction in gender specific latrines at public areas such as schools, roads and parks. Thereby, indirectly impacting the society on a positive front, by increasing the enrolment ratio of girls in schools and improving overall health standards of all children. Studies even indicate that the Swachh Bharat Mission positively impacts economic conditions.
A recent study was conducted by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on behalf of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) to assess the economic impacts (benefits) of the Swachh Bharat Mission. It was found that on an average, every household in an open defecationfree village saved about Rs 50,000 per year due to lower likelihood of disease from using a toilet and practicing hand washing and the value of time saved due to a closer toilet.
Swachh Bharat Mission being the largest cleanliness drive in the world has brought in remarkable transformation and traceable benefits to the marginalised sections of society. In COVID times, the Government expects to employ migrant workers in various flagship missions from laying of water pipes to the construction of toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission. We have created new milestones for India in our path to Swasth Bharat. Sr. Adv. Pinky Anand is the Additional Solicitor General of India.