Three years on, how 'Swachh' is Modi's 'Bharat'?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship project Swachh Bharat Abhiyan turns three today. Mr. Modi launched the mission on October 2, 2014 with a lofty vision - to rid India of open defecation by October 2, 2019. Three years on, where are we? And how clean India really is? Here we offer a detailed reading between the many government claims and the on-ground reality.
As per government estimates, the number of households with toilets has risen from 38.7% to 69.04% in the last three years. It also claims that 38.5% of India's villages are now open-defecation free. However, according to IndiaSpend, the claims of only 63% of these villages have been verified. Also, there is no way to find out if the newly-built toilets are being used at all.
According to the ministry of drinking water and sanitation, villages are considered free of open defecation only when every household and public institution of the village use safe technology to dispose of feces, there is no manual handling of fresh excreta, and no odour and unsightly conditions.
Though government data reveals impressive progress, most of these claims stand unverified, say experts. According to National Family Health Survey 4, as of 2016, 36.7% of rural households had "improved sanitation facilities." However, a majority (51.6%) didn't, IndiaSpend reported. Despite a recent government report suggesting that 91.29% rural households with toilets were using it, the World Bank has called Swachh Bharat's implementation 'moderately unsatisfactory.'
The World Bank had promised India a loan of Rs. 10,500 crore for successful implementation of Swachh Bharat Gramin. However, since India failed to conduct an independent verification survey as asked, the apex bank refused to release the first instalment that was due in July'16.
The movement is facing sharp criticism for focusing just on constructing toilets. Stakeholders say the nationwide mission has failed to address larger issues like monitoring and maintenance of the newly-built toilets, managing solid waste, allocation of appropriate funds to states, and resource and capacity building needed for successful implementation. Several states are under scanner for using questionable methods to force people into using latrines.
Despite the criticism and the challenges, Swachh Bharat's supporters say there has been an evident behavioral change in the last three years, especially in rural India. At its best, the Clean India Mission is a people's movement aiming to help the nation manage its public health crises. However, the movement needs to pick up pace if it wants to meet its 2019 deadline.