Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) on 2 October (Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary) was a wake-up call for millions of Indians and generated much enthusiasm in both the mainstream and social media. Celebrities such as Sachin Tendulkar and Salman Khan were roped in to add to the visibility of the campaign. Images of people from all walks of life wielding the broom in what was unarguably the biggest cleanliness drive ever in the country gave hope that urban India could well be on its way to matching the standards set by the shining cities of the ‘developed’ world.
However, almost four months later, the dream of ‘Clean India’ seems to have remained just that — a dream. The campaign itself has been reduced to a photo-op for celebrities and others, who think perhaps that they have done their bit by getting a picture clicked with a broom in hand.
Take New Delhi for instance. Tehelka found that Modi’s ambitious mission to make the city neat and clean by 2019 has slipped off the tracks. People continue to litter the streets instead of disposing off garbage in bins and urinate on the roadside instead of using public toilets. Whatever happened to the awareness that the campaign was supposed to have generated?
“I have not heard of any such campaign,” says Shabbo Rani, who lives in Madanpur Khadar, a resettlement colony in southeast Delhi. Rani dumps garbage in the open drains that run through the colony. A shopkeeper in the neighbourhood says that the locals throw garbage wherever they find some empty space, including vacant plots. “The stink has made life miserable and we are exposed to various infections because of the rotting waste,” he says. “The sanitation workers of the municipal corporation do not pick up the garbage on a regular basis.”
A similar situation prevails in neighbourhoods such as Sangam Vihar, Sarita Vihar, Shaheen Bagh and Abul Fazal Nagar.
“Two months ago, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) launched a cleanliness drive as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” says a source from the MCD, who didn’t want to be named. “We started an anti-spitting drive in Connaught Place, but it was unsuccessful as the people did not lend a helping hand. Moreover, despite putting up advertisements and big hoardings at bus stands and metro stations in Connaught Place and other parts of the city to generate public awareness on the issue, the people do not use the bins that have been provided.”
In October, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) set up a ‘May I Help You’ force comprising 50 trained guards to check the nuisance of spitting in public. In two months, the NDMC issued 5,000 challans to people found spitting on the streets.
“The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is little more than a marketing gimmick of the ruling party at the Centre,” says Ashutosh, convener of the Delhi unit of the Aam Aadmi Party. “The civic bodies in Delhi, which are run by the BJP, are not taking any interest in promoting the campaign.”
Maheish Girri of the BJP, who represents the East Delhi constituency in the Lok Sabha, refutes the charge that the campaign is just a gimmick. “It cannot be denied that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has indeed brought about a change in the way we look at the issue of cleanliness,” says Girri. “But it will take time for the results to be visible. After all, the success of a campaign such as this depends on the attitude of the people, which cannot change overnight. It is a long-drawn process, but the important thing is that a beginning has been made. Of course, a lot more needs to be done. More people have to be involved in the campaign and all of us would have to take responsibility for keeping our surroundings clean. I am sure one day India will become a neat and clean country.”