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Let’s all clean our act up

Let’s all clean our act up
Highlights

Let’s all clean our act up. About one-third of Hyderabad population lives in slums. The slum dwellers lack wherewithal to keep their surroundings clean.

About one-third of Hyderabad population lives in slums. The slum dwellers lack wherewithal to keep their surroundings clean. Thus the problem here is not just behavioural in character but is a question of basic human deprivation that goes unattended for years. The city administration is ill-equipped to convert the waste into energy. Sanitation is also intimately linked to larger issues like poverty, low income, multiple deprivations etc. Thus, the Swachh Hyderabad should be integrated with the overall socio-economic programme to improve the lives and livelihoods of urban poor Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign), which sets the target of making India clean by 2019, has suddenly caught the imagination of the Telangana State government.

This campaign was launched in the country on October 2, 2014 . The State has embraced it after eight months. The laudable programme might have political underpinnings which the opposition may harp over. As the elections to Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) are round the corner, the TRS government has taken up a massive campaign to project itself before the electorate. This may be the allegation of the critics. But, the grammar of democracy makes the political parties tune their actions in accordance with the political time-table.

The TRS government cannot be singled out for this. Yet another interpretation is that the KCR government is reaching out to Narendra Modi via Swachh Bharat campaign. The informal statement of TRS MP and KCR‘s daughter on the possibility of the TRS joining the NDA government at the Centre gave credence to such a speculation. But, keeping apart this political rhetoric and grand symbolism associated with the campaign, one should look at the long-term sustainability of the Clean Hyderabad drive. No doubt, Swachh Bharat has certainly created an emotional impact.

Such an impact is vital for effecting a behavioral change towards sanitation and hygiene. But such psychological impact would not last long unless backed up with more coherent and substantial action. The politicians are exhorting people to change their mindset to make our country clean. But, such a change in the mindset should actually begin with our rulers only. For instance, Prime Minister launched this campaign from Valmiki Colony inhabited by the sanitation workers.

Prof Vivek Kumar, a sociologist from Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi, rightly says: “If this is symbolism, then it is tainted by casteism.” Even today the worst forms of sanitation work are carried out by the socially and economically most marginalised sections of society. Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao called these sanitation workers as gods. But, these helpless people are not seeking divine status form the people in power. Instead such a governmental affection should translate into measures to ameliorate their condition both at the work place and at home. They live in sub-human conditions.

They lack minimum healthcare or health insurance even though they are exposed to ill health due to the nature of their work. Most of them are employed on contract and outsourcing basis and are denied minimum wages. More surprisingly sanitation workers are not even provided with basic needs to carry out their work like footwear, masks, glouses, brushes, soaps etc. The sanitation workers have to protest on streets many a time to meet such basic demands. The Swachh Bharat campaign rightly glorifies sanitation work. But, the deep-rooted social prejudices prevent a significant policy action to improve their lot.

Without critical infrastructure in place, mere motivation will not work. Certainly political, film, official celebrities joining the campaign would have a lot of symbolic value whose importance cannot be denied in achieving a behavioural change. But, this alone would not suffice. Every year hundreds of sanitation workers die because of inhaling poisonous gases while cleaning sewers. Even Hyderabad is no exception to this. But, the GHMC fails to provide them with sufficient safety gear for their protection when they go down the manholes. Manholes are often left open reflecting monumental neglect for clean environs.

The manpower contractors often employ untrained sanitation workers exposing both the citizens and the worker to hazardous situation. Studies reveal that inadequate oxygen masks and other accessories are the reason for the death of sanitation worker while cleaning the sewers. As the sanitation work is mostly leased out on contract and outsourcing basis, the sanitation workers do not have basic social security available to them. Improvement in sanitation is intricately linked to provisioning better housing and slum renewal.

According to 2011 Census, 68 million Indians live in slums. There are officially 1,487 slums in Hyderabad. The unofficial estimate puts it at nearly 1,700. About one-third of Hyderabad population lives in slums. The slum-dwellers lack wherewithal to keep their surroundings clean. Thus the problem here is not just behavioural in character but is a question of basic human deprivation that goes unattended for years. Though there is a lot of lofty talk of viewing waste as resource, average citizen lacks the technology to recycle the garbage. The city administration is ill-equipped to convert the waste into energy. In the absence of effective waste management, Swachh Bharat cannot be a sustained activity.

While emphasising on systemic issues, one cannot be oblivious to the importance of personal hygiene and the need to motivate people in this regard. It is worth noting here what Gandhiji wrote nine decades ago. In an article titled “Our Dirty Ways” in Navajivan on 13 September 1925, Gandhi stressed on personal hygiene and recommended: (1) Both excretory functions should be performed only at fixed places. (2) To pass urine anywhere in a street, at any place not meant for the purpose should be regarded as an offence. (3) After passing urine at any selected place, one should cover up the spot well with dry earth. (4) Lavatories should be kept very clean. Even the part through which the water flows should be kept clean. (5) Our lavatories bring our civilisation into discredit, they violate the rules of hygiene. (6) All the night-soil should be removed to fields.

In an article entitled, ‘Whose Cleanliness?’ (Economic & Political Weekly), Vivek Kumar effectively sums up the measures needed to make Swachh Bharat an enduring success: If ‘Swachh’ campaign (clean India) is to be a fact, then the government and citizens both have to engage with all aspects of sanitation work (sweeping, scavenging, cleaning of gutters and manholes, and cleaning of human excreta in both water and dry latrines), removal of slums, development of sanitation facilities, revamping of municipalities (and not by out-sourcing services to contractors), arrangements for waste disposal (either by converting waste into reusable energy or by finding a safe dumping ground), stopping ecological degradation. Besides, sanitation is also intimately linked to larger issues like poverty, low income, multiple deprivations etc. Thus, the Swachh Hyderabad should be integrated with the overall socio-economic programme to improve the lives and livelihoods of urban poor.

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