Swachh Bharat campaign: Community approach can help
Swachh Bharat Campaign: Community Approach can Help. During his first Independence Day speech on Aug 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call for a nationwide cleanliness drive, emphasising the imperative of cleanliness in our lives and its role in improving the overall health and hygiene of the nation.
During his first Independence Day speech on Aug 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call for a nationwide cleanliness drive, emphasising the imperative of cleanliness in our lives and its role in improving the overall health and hygiene of the nation. In order to make it more inclusive and driven by citizens, he then invited several leaders, celebrities and noted citizens to participate in pushing this movement further in their regions of influence.
The initiative has evoked high levels of adhesion among the general public. However, some sections of society have raised doubts on the likely success of such a gargantuan project. Such scepticism manifests itself out of past failures of similar attempts launched by successive governments since independence. Consider programmes in the recent past like the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (1986-99), the Total Sanitation Campaign (1999-2012) and the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (2012 till 2022), all of which failed to create any credible impact.
Experts believe the most challenging aspect of the present cleanliness drive will be its propagation among the urban poor and rural societies, in general, in the country. They argue that the single largest impediment to the programme's success is to make it work among the constituencies where most dwellings are missing even the basic provision for sanitation and hygiene. Reports indicate that close to 600 million people defecate in the open every day in India and almost 50 percent of them are women, young girls and children - making them susceptible to crimes like rapes and sexual harassment.
In contrast, urban societies fare comparatively better due to some access to drainage and piped water systems and toilets. However, the municipal delivery systems are in general ineffective and riddled with political interference and corruption. It is, therefore, unlikely that the existing public delivery practices can address the enormity of the mission for Swachh Bharat.
The objectives of Swachh Bharat as set forth by the urban development ministry can be classified into three baskets. The first relates to waste management and linked practices (converting insanitary toilets to flush toilets, no manual scavenging, 100 percent collection and scientific disposal). The second concerns structural issues (strengthening of local bodies to design, execute and operate systems and enable private sector participation). The third relates to behavioural change (eliminate open defecation, building awareness and change in sanitation habits).
Considering the need to engage with citizens and a need for the change to come from within, a bottom-up grassroots development model will be most appropriate for managing the Swachh Bharat movement.
I am inclined to believe that despite certain limitations, the Anand cooperative model is perhaps the most successful one for social change that has achieved greatest grassroots empowerment when compared to the available alternatives. The model drives sustenance through inbuilt extension and motivation modules that can be suitably modified for any form of social engineering.
In the spirit of a cooperative movement I would consider the model in building community toilets besides incentivising the local community to take ownership of their upkeep. Central toilets in the short and medium term would reduce the cost of establishing a network of sewage pipes across the village and minimize collection efforts. The modern community toilets, once established, would not only make the whole community aware of the necessities of cleanliness, hygiene and health but also encourage the community to abstain from open defecating.
The entire awareness campaign can be managed along similar lines as the extension workers have done in propagating the dairy cooperative movement. Once established in this manner, it will be easier to demonstrate to the communities the importance of a modern toilet as a proper place for defecating and also the impact it has on health and hygiene.
Consider that dealing with waste is at the core of the Swachh Bharat movement. It is my opinion that we can learn from the Anand model (Anand in Gujarat is known as the milk capital of India and famous for pioneering India's milk revolution through its Amul cooperative diary-based project), and follow it to ensure the waste management practices are modern and scientific, so that the waste can then be processed for value added multiple applications, as was done in modernising the conventional milk supply system, in India.
A modern and progressive waste management industry in India will definitely remove the stigma associated with the waste collection process and in turn assist in altering social views on scavenging and scavengers. Global models for waste management are moving towards zero waste and there is a strong interest in waste-to-energy, with many private companies investing in the domain. The cooperative approach could potentially create micro-energy plants through the bio waste and drive other aspects of social change especially in the rural areas.
The objective, that of behavioural change, is best brought about with participation from the rank and file of the entire ecosystem. As more people see their neighbours and relatives associate with cleaner and more hygienic practices, they too will embrace them and make them a regular practice.
The single biggest learning from the Anand model is that empowering local communities and creating an incentive for them to work together drives long lasting social change. Having been associated with the replication of the Anand model across the country, I am confident that a similar pattern can be used to ensure the success of the Swachh Bharat initiative. I look forward to the success of this initiative, which is not only brave but long due.
By Animesh Banerjee
(The author is a former executive director of the National Dairy Development Board, president of the Indian Dairy Association and advisor on public policies. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)