On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a mission to clean India’s cities and villages.
The campaign, inaugurated to coincide with Gandhi Jayanti, aims to realise its vision of ‘Clean India’ by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
In the months after it was launched, the campaign gained momentum with many celebrities, politicians and academic institutions organising cleanliness drives across the country.
As a reminder of how seriously his government takes this mission, the prime minister brought up the issue during his Independence Day speech as well, talking about inadequate number of toilets .
A total of 31.83 lakh toilets were built between April 2014 and January 2015 under this campaign, which is 25.4% of the target for 2014-15. Over the next 5 years, the government plans to invest nearly Rs 2 lakh crore to construct 12 crore toilets across India.
The ambitious campaign has its fair share of challenges too. An impact assessment study conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) revealed that toilets built in rural areas were lying unused, as the villagers were wary of using them.
Modi nominated nine celebrities, asking them to nominate nine more people to make the initiative go viral. These included Goa governor Mridula Sinha, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Congress lawmaker and former union minister Shashi Tharoor, industrialist Anil Ambani, actors Kamal Hasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan and the team of popular TV serial Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma.
The national campaign, which will run till October 2, 2019, aims to :
1. Eliminate open defecation by constructing toilets for households, communities
2. Eradicate manual scavenging
3. Introduce modern and scientific municipal solid waste management practices
4. Enable private sector participation in the sanitation sector
5. Change people’s attitudes to sanitation and create awareness.
The campaign waded into controversy with allegations that many politicians were turning it into a mere photo-op. Members of the BJP’s Delhi unit, including president Satish Upadhyay, came under fire when it was reported that garbage was littered on a clean pavement so they could clean it.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal agreed to participate in the campaign on urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu’s invitation but said that such “symbolic gestures” cannot make India clean.
The campaign was also criticised on the grounds that Modi was using it as a platform to gain political mileage by rebranding the existing Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan mission.