Scheme or day­dream?

Swachchh Bharat Ab­hiyan re­mains lim­ited to photo ops and rhetoric

The Asian Age - - Oped -

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi is fa­mous for re­nam­ing and repack­ing most of the poli­cies and wel­fare pro­gramme ini­tia­tives of the pre­vi­ous govern­ment and then spend sev­eral hun­dred crores of ru­pees in ad­ver­tise­ments and pub­lic­ity to claim credit and earn po­lit­i­cal brownie points for the same. The Swachchh Bharat Ab­hiyan is a case in point.

The Swachchh Bharat mis­sion is not the first san­i­ta­tion pro­gramme of its kind. Since 1954, a “ru­ral san­i­ta­tion pro­gramme” has been un­der im­ple­men­ta­tion in In­dia. Ra­jiv Gandhi sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded the pro­gramme in 1986, when his govern­ment launched the Cen­tral Ru­ral San­i­ta­tion Pro­gramme. Then the Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee govern­ment in 1999 launched the To­tal San­i­ta­tion Cam­paign. The UPA govern­ment led by Man­mo­han Singh im­ple­mented the Nir­mal Bharat Ab­hiyan, which is now rechris­tened as Swachchh Bharat Ab­hiyan.

In October 2014, Mr Modi in his flam­boy­ant style in­au­gu­rated the Swachchh Bharat Ab­hiyan by sweep­ing the po­lice sta­tion premises in cen­tral Delhi. From then on he made use of ev­ery plat­form avail­able to glo­rify the mis­sion and show that this is his govern­ment’s most pres­ti­gious flag­ship pro­gramme. He has in­volved ev­ery arm of the govern­ment from Union min­is­ters to vil­lage pan­chayat ad­min­is­tra­tion in pro­mot­ing the mis­sion and also im­posed 0.5 per cent cess on all tax­able ser­vices and set up the Swachchh Bharat Kosh to at­tract do­na­tions to fund the cam­paign.

The PM has made very tall prom­ises and that too to achieve all within the dead­line of October 2019. While the mis­sion’s ma­jor ob­jec­tive is to com­pletely elim­i­nate open defe­ca­tion in In­dia, it also prom­ises to de­liver door-to-door col­lec­tion of garbage and pro­cess­ing all in­or­ganic trash to gen­er­ate en­ergy. It also has three “sub-mis­sions”, namely en­sur­ing la­trines in coun­try’s schools, all an­gan­wadi cen­tres, and to build la­trines as part of other govern­ment pro­grammes. In ad­di­tion, the govern­ment also has pledged san­i­tary treat­ment of sewage. How­ever, the great­est chal­lenge is the prom­ise to erad­i­cate the prac­tice of man­ual scav­eng­ing.

These are enor­mous goals and ad­mirable ones. The suc­cess or fail­ure of this mis­sion has to be viewed from the achieve­ment of all these ob­jec­tives and so far it is ob­vi­ous that it has failed in al­most all its ob­jec­tives. The World Bank in its ap­praisal re­port in Novem­ber 2015 also cau­tioned and said that the cam­paign is “tech­ni­cally sound”, but go­ing by the past ex­pe­ri­ence, its tar­gets were vastly un­re­al­is­tic.

The mis­sion has com­pletely failed so far to end the em­ploy­ment of man­ual scav­engers and they con­tinue to work in sew­ers and sep­tic tanks.

The mis­sion’s bud­get is es­ti­mated around `2.23 lakh crores and grand of­fi­cial pro­nounce­ments and crores spent on ad­ver­tise­ments have gen­er­ated great deal of at­ten­tion. Hence, it is the duty of ev­ery In­dian to start seek­ing an­swers on the ex­pen­di­tures, im­ple­men­ta­tion and per­for­mance of the mis­sion. How­ever, there is lack of trans­parency in the govern­ment’s data on spend­ing of cam­paign funds and ac­counts made pub­lic so far does not dis­close proof of how these funds have been used, or if they have been used at all. Sec­ond, no in­for­ma­tion is avail­able if third-party eval­u­a­tion of re­sults to be con­ducted by “independent project re­view and mon­i­tor­ing agen­cies” has been car­ried out.

As time goes by, it is be­com­ing clear that the zeal and en­thu­si­asm dis­played by the govern­ment is less for proper im­ple­men­ta­tion and more for draw­ing at­ten­tion to the cam­paign and chest-thump­ing. The Swachchh Bharat mis­sion fits well in his scheme of “lots of sound but void of sub­stance”.

While the Swachchh Bharat Ab­hiyan has failed to achieve its stated ob­jec­tives, the worry is whether it will be­come “Swachchh Khaz­ana Ab­hiyan” of the ex­che­quer.

The writer is the AICC com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment sec­re­tary

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