Scheme or daydream?
Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan remains limited to photo ops and rhetoric
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