A ‘swachh Bharat’ is what the father of the nation dreamed of | opinion | Comment | Hindustan Times
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A ‘swachh Bharat’ is what the father of the nation dreamed of

Over a third of India’s villages have already been declared open defecation free and nearly 30% more rural Indians have access to safe sanitation compared to three years ago. With the Swachh Bharat Mission completing three years on 2nd October 2017, a lot of progress has been made, but there is still work to be done.

opinion Updated: Oct 01, 2017 21:22 IST
Ratan Tata,Tata Trusts,Swachh Bharat Mission
Narendra Modi wields a broom with NDMC workers to launch 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' in Valmiki Basti in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

If reduction in malnutrition is profit, then nutrition initiatives increase revenue and sanitation initiatives reduce costs. A business model is most successful when revenues increase and costs decrease simultaneously.

For many years, India has ranked among the countries with the worst undernutrition, stunting and wasting levels in the world, even worse than some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

It has been estimated by various research groups that about 40% of our children are stunted. Poor levels of sanitation in rural areas have inhibited the effectiveness of nutrition initiatives like Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and mid-day meals. Lack of sanitation at schools has meant there is a disproportional dropout rate among adolescent girls, many of whom are then married early, have very early pregnancies and have children with low birth weight who are highly susceptible to being malnourished.

Stunted and wasted children don’t achieve their full physical and cognitive potential, and this hampers their economic potential and their ability to provide better opportunities to their children. This vicious cycle continues.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 with a goal of achieving universal sanitation in five years, it was like a breath of fresh air.

This is exactly what India needed to build an India of the future — a strong push to reduce the costs of insanitation, which will allow our initiatives in nutrition, education, skilling, poverty alleviation and livelihood generation take full bloom and increase our revenue and profits. The entire country has rallied around this bold call to action, and so have the Tata Trusts.

The Tata Trusts have a rich legacy of serving the nation for 125 years, and when the opportunity to serve the Swachh Bharat Mission came, we rose to the occasion.

Through the Tata Water Mission, the Tata Trusts are providing strategic support to the government at the central, state and district level for the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Our most significant contribution has been providing the ministry of drinking water and sanitation with 600 talented and qualified young professionals called Zila Swachh Bharat Preraks (ZSBP), one for each district in India, who are posted in the district collector’s team to help bring innovation, energy and the enthusiasm of youth to the implementation of the country’s flagship program.

We have also helped the government set-up virtual classrooms to scale up capacity building of Swachhagrahis or motivators who use community approaches in sanitation to trigger behaviour change among people and convince them to build, use and maintain toilets in every village of India.

It is very encouraging to see the government’s commitment to implement the Swachh Bharat Mission unlike traditional government programmes. The focus on convening the collective effort of development partners like the Tata Trusts, corporates, faith-based groups, civil society groups, NGO’s, and most of all the community is yielding phenomenal results.

Over a third of India’s villages have already been declared open defecation free and nearly 30% more rural Indians have access to safe sanitation compared to three years ago. But what pleases me the most is the way the people have responded, taken ownership and made it a mass movement.

I hear stories of ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things to motivate their communities to choose safe sanitation over open defecation. Women and children have been the biggest change-makers, showing us that once people believe in an idea no challenge is too hard to overcome, not even habits which have been a way of life for centuries.

The Tata Trusts are also supporting the central and state governments on improving nutritional intake among vulnerable groups through initiatives like fortification with essential vitamins and minerals of daily essentials like salt, oil and milk, strengthening ICDS delivery through technical support in over 160 districts, and policy support through the Tata National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) Centre, among others.

With the Swachh Bharat Mission completing three years on October 2, 2017, a lot of progress has been made, but there is still work to be done. The Tata Trusts are committed to continue supporting this unprecedented program and help achieve the dream of the father of the nation – a clean India where every individual lends himself to perfect sanitation.

We owe this to our children; we owe this to our future.

Ratan N Tata is chairman, Tata Trusts

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 01, 2017 21:19 IST