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Clean India campaign: Not all spit and polish

The cleanliness drive, which begins on Thursday, is laudable, but it must stay on course at all times. This is the first time that such a drive is being undertaken on this scale, and the seriousness of the exercise has been underscored by the fact that government servants have been asked to report for duty on a double holiday

comment Updated: Oct 01, 2014 23:03 IST

This is clearly the NDA’s version of making a clean sweep of things. Today, on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will wield the broom, the symbol of the Aam Aadmi Party, whose chief Arvind Kejriwal he defeated roundly in Varanasi, a city that will be central to the whole cleanliness drive. However, this is the first time that such a drive is being undertaken on this scale, and the seriousness of the exercise has been underscored by the fact that government servants have been asked to report for duty on a double holiday as Durga Puja’s Mahaashtami also falls today.

This is all very well. What Mr Modi will begin today is the easiest part of the job. In India the concept of the common public good is all but absent in the people’s consciousness. This is a country where people have to be told “not to spit on the wall”, a decree that is ubiquitous in government offices all over the country. In Delhi and many other cities, people urinating on the road right next to a public lavatory is a common sight. It is important that the people learn to think of roads, parks, bridges and rivers as things that they have a duty to maintain. And only an ongoing exercise on the part of the government can make that happen. For that institutional structures need to be put in place. One could begin with having a cleanliness cell in every government or private office in the same way there are for women’s harassment, with appropriate rewards and punishments.

Cleaning up the Ganga, a subject very dear to the prime minister’s heart, could be a good case study of the initiatives that can be taken both by individuals and industry. The river takes in more than 2,000 million litres of dirt a day, discharged by factories, not to speak of human waste, which accounts for about 80% of the pollutants. This could not have happened without the activities of the teeming millions who live next to the river. Hence population is also a crucial factor in the cleanliness drive. In addition, there has to be a campaign against waste and for moderation in consumption, something Gandhi would certainly have prescribed.