Swachh India

India At 70: Swachh India Independence Day Special

India is home to 450 million people as per Government data, who have no access to toilets and defecate in the open. That essentially means that almost half the population of the world that defecates in the open resides in India. It’s been nearly three years since the Government launched the campaign to clean up India and make it a 100% open defecation free (ODF) country – the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.  Can India clean up its act and achieve its target of being totally ODF by 2019?

As India completes 70 years of independence, we look at the issues that India has grappled with since Independence when it comes to sanitation, how has the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan fared so far? The challenges that India faces when it comes to its polluted rivers or overflowing landfills that threat to drown India in its own garbage. And finally we look at some proactive action being taken to clean up some of the iconic places of India and we profile some ordinary people who have become Heroes of the swachh movement through their extraordinary initiatives.


India's Sanitation Problem: A Historical Perspective

Comprehensive plans and expenditure of crores did little to improve the sanitation coverage and tackle open defecation

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India’s performance on sanitation front has been historically a poor one as prior to independence from 1947 and till the 1980s, the national focus on sanitation was low key, resulting in diseases like diarrhoea becoming rampant. The lack of an administrative or economic policy to launch a nationwide sanitation programme, as well as the inability of respective states to spend adequately and develop the required infrastructure kept India’s sanitation coverage to single digits till 1980s.

Also Read: Rural Sanitation Has Risen To 66%, A Healthy Tradition Has Begun: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The expenditure to improve India’s sanitation and toilet coverage has been considerable, though the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan of 2014 is the most expensive nationwide sanitation mission to be launched, till date. The sanitation numbers today are a big improvement over the previous years but decades of ineffective sanitation policies and nearly nil improvement in rural areas have made the task a humongous one. The ongoing campaign incorporates some positive features from the earlier sanitation campaigns and hopes to address the negatives which prevented these earlier campaigns to be successful.

India’s sanitation history has seen several ups and downs, the highs coming mostly post 1980s with the launch of nationwide sanitation campaigns. It has taken India many years to launch comprehensive campaign like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which aims not only to eradicate open defecation but make it a basic necessity to have a toilet in every household. The role of history becoming the best teacher will only be realised when past mistakes are converted to present successes in the form of total sanitation coverage.

Also Read: Urban Areas Of 9 States Will Be Declared Open Defecation Free By October 2: Minister Narendra Singh Tomar

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan So Far

The sanitation programme has achieved considerable progress compared to the previous government initiatives but a lot of ground still needs to be covered to meet 2019 targets

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On October 2, 2014, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the aim of eradicating open defecation by October 2019. The primary aim of the sanitation mission is to aid and popularise the usage of toilets in rural and urban India.

Also Read: For A ‘Swachh Bharat’ Don’t Just Donate Money, Donate Cleanliness: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Individuals are encouraged to build household toilets, and the objectives of the programme also accommodates provisions for assisting the building of toilets in schools, Anganwadis and public sanitation complexes in cities and towns.

Compared to the previous three nationwide sanitation programmes, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has managed to make a dent in both rural and urban areas across the country in pursuit of the 2019 targets, when it comes to toilet construction and number of villages and districts going ODF.

The campaign also aims to bring about a behavioural change among people so that toilets do not merely remain in numbers but are used properly. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan also focusses on waste management, cleanliness of public spaces and educating people to practice safe sanitation and cleanliness. With little more than two years to go for the national ODF target to be achieved, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has miles to cover before India can attain freedom from open defecation.

Also Read: Rural Sanitation Has Risen To 66%, A Healthy Tradition Has Begun: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

India's Growing Garbage Menace

A ticking bomb is how experts describe the pile up of waste overflowing from landfills or making its way into rivers, oceans and other water bodies. India is drowning in its own waste and needs to act urgently.

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India's waste generation pattern differs largely from region to region given it is divided into rural and urban areas. It is estimated that India generates 62 million tonnes of waste annually. Not only has the waste generation increased tremendously in the last decade in quantity but also the types (biodegradable and non-biodegradable) of waste generated have changed. The problem is that of the total waste that India generates only 12.45% is scientifically processed and a mere 24% is treated, the rest is directly dumped onto the landfills.

Contrary to the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 of having adequate sanitary landfill facility (Landfill where heavy earth-moving equipment is used to compress waste and then cover it with soil), the waste is unscientifically disposed of in low lying areas or on the outskirts of city area leading to flooding, air pollution and ground water contamination due to percolation of leachate (liquids that leach or leak from the landfill). Besides the environmental hazards that the huge quantum of waste is causing, the landfill space is another major concern that experts have raised. If the cities continue to dump garbage at the present rate then by 2050, India will need landfill the size of many modern day cities combined to dump the waste.

Watch Video: Why India's Overflowing Landfills Is a Ticking Bomb

The gap between waste generation and land requirement is increasing each year and if no effective measures are taken it would be no time before landfills across India become exhausted like it already has in cities like Mumbai and Delhi. On several occasions, the overflowing landfills of Ghazipur (Delhi) and Deonar (Mumbai) have caught fires due to accumulation of combustible methane gas that leak from the garbage dumps. As per a report by the Central Pollution Control Board, the landfills in most of the metro cities are overflowing with no space to accommodate fresh garbage. So instead of identifying new trenching grounds, the government needs to sort out a concrete waste management that ensures segregation and recycling.

Until 1980s no heed was paid to the issue of waste management and disposal. However, with implementation of Hazardous Waste Management Rules in 1989, the attitude of the civic bodies and government took cognisance of the issue. Since it took nearly 4 decades after Independence for the government authorities to realise the extent of the problem to formulate rules, it doesn’t come across as a surprise that it is only now that the process of making citizens aware has only just started. With the Clean India Mission, government is now adopting the 2-bin waste segregation problem and running a campaign to spread the benefits of segreagting waste at source among citizens. Of the total waste that India generates, a whopping 75% can be treated if segregated efficiently.

Of the total waste India generates, 5.6 million tonnes per year is plastic waste. Considering that plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, India is taking initial steps to embark on recycling this form of waste. From using it in road making to even exploring recycling plastic into fuel, this is a massive work in progress as far as India is concerned. Currently India is seeing an active involvement of NGOs, local authorities, social entrepreneurs and citizens to provide innovative solutions and develop different ways of managing India's waste.

Cleaning Up India's Rivers

Pollution And Apathy Rendering Mighty Rivers Lifeless

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History has bestowed India with the recognition of being the land seven rivers. The mighty rivers of India have been the country’s lifeline for decades and have been the principal sources of water, usable for all purposes. Today, years of over exploiting our river water resources, along with disposal of all types of untreated waste have rendered many of our rivers polluted and their water unfit for usage, especially the Ganga and the Yamuna.

On the occasion of India’s 70 years of independence, we look at how the country’s once water rich rivers are slowly dying due to pollution and apathy.

For years, India’s rivers have been taken for granted by industries, general population, administration and successive governments. The problem of pollution in our rivers has reached unproportioned levels today and the challenge of cleaning up our rivers is also manifold. For rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna, industries disposing untreated waste as well as human habitations and unsanitary practices along the river banks have spelled a death knell for them. Expenditure worth crores of rupees on behalf of the government have achieved nil to moderate success in overturning the fortunes of India’s polluted rivers.

Also Read: The Great Ganga Cleanup: A Timeline

Since 2015, efforts to clean up India’s rivers have accelerated. The Rs 20,000 crore Namami Gange programme has focussed on set up of sewage treatment plants, remove sludge from the river body and eradicate the practice of open defecation from the river basin. The National Green Tribunal has also played a crucial role by passing several orders to clamp down on industrial and human activities near the Yamuna and Ganga.

Also Read: 3 Years Of ‘Namami Gange’: Where Do We Stand?

The Ministry of Water Resouces estimates that it will take ten years to clean the Ganga. No such updates are available for any of India’s other polluted rivers. It has taken years to pollute such mighty water bodies and cleaning up will take a similar timeframe, if not more. But it is also up to people in general to understand the crucial ecological role rivers play and how polluting them will only add to India’s already existent water woes. India’s water requirement will rise to 1447 billion cubic metres in 2050, from the existing 1100 billion cubic metres and polluted, over exhausted rivers will be of no help then.

In Pics: The Mighty River Of India, Ganga Is Dying And We Are To Be Blamed

Swachh Iconic Places

Iconic Places Of India And Their Tryst With Swachh Abhiyan

After launching the ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014, the government set a goal to achieve international cleanliness standards for the country's landmarks under the Swachh Iconic Places (SIPs) initiative. 100 iconic heritage, spiritual and cultural places in the country where shortlisted and apart from massive cleanup drives, the aim was to come up with a Swachh agenda for each of these places as part of a comprehensive plan to achieve the cleanliness target.

Also Read: Ten Landmarks Of India Shortlisted For A Swachh Makeover

In 2016, cleanliness drives were initiated in 10 of these places that were identified for phase 1 of the project. A year later, with multiple sanitation drives, adoption of waste management techniques and a few glitches, we look at what has been achieved so far and what are the learnings at each of these places.

In April (2017) the government came out with the list of next set of 10 places to be taken up in Phase II. These range from Gangotri, to Bajinath Dham in Devghar.

On July 24, Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation Narendra Singh Tomar had given an update on the progress of the nominated ‘Swachh Tourist Destinations’ and had said that an improvement from 40 per cent to 60 per cent in cleanliness levels were recorded in the last one year. In order to sustain and improve the cleanliness in the coming phases the lessons and experiences from first phase will be integrated for the remaining 90 sites.

Swachh Warriors of India

India's Swachh Warriors Lead The Way To Clean Up The Country

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When Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Clean India Mission in 2014 he called it as a mission ‘for the people, by the people and of the people’ while inviting nearly 1.3 billion citizens to be an integral part of the campaign. From conducting massive cleanup drives, intiatives to end open defecation to coming up with innovative ideas to manage India’s waste, citizens from across the country are joining in to make India clean. It's only been two and a half years and there is still a long way to go. But a start has been made.

To bring about a behavourial change several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Residents Welfare Societies (RWAs), start-ups and ordinary citizens are working in different spheres to complement the efforts of the government and municipal authorities.

These people have emerged as the real heroes of the Swachh movement.

Acknowledging the work being done by those outside the government and administrative sphere and to encourage citizen participation, the Ministry of Drinking water and Sanitation recently announced the launch of Swachhathon 1.0 - the Swachh Bharat Hackathon. The objective is to identify good work being done in the field of sanitation and waste management and honour them.