Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Glimmer of hope or playing it to the gallery?

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swachh-bharatPrime Minister Narendra Modi called for providing toilets for girls in schools in his first Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Later, raising the bar, he gave a call for a “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, which has prompted a few corporates and PSUs to build toilets in schools across the country. Modi seems to echo the sentiments of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who once said: ‘‘The day every one of us gets a toilet to use, I shall know that our country has reached the pinnacle of progress.” His successors, however, did not perhaps see things in the same light.

As a result, India still practises open defecation.

Let’s consider the following:

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• Thanks to open defecation, 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are water-related

• More than 100,000 Indians die every year due to diarrhoea

• About 88 percent of diarrhoea cases are linked to lack of water and sanitation

• India carries the highest burden of mosquito-borne diseases, with 24 million cases

• 14.8 million are affected by dysentery in India

• Rampant worm infestation and repeated diarrhoea episodes result in widespread child malnutrition

• 11 out of 28 states are in the grip of cholera outbreaks for three consecutive years

• Annually, nearly 600,000 children below 18 have lost their lives to diarrhoea and pneumonia

• India is also home to the largest number of stunted children in the world.

According to the 2011 Census, toilets are still a pipe dream in an overwhelming 69.3 percent of rural India and 18.6 percent urban areas, compared to the ownership of mobile phones and television sets; as a result, nearly 50 percent of India’s 122.9 million households practise open defecation.

In his book “Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China And India Are Reshaping Their Futures And Yours”, Tarun Khanna observes the toilet revolution in India is gathering steam but has miles to go before India will become open defecation free.

In this backdrop, does the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan come as a glimmer of hope, or just another bid to play it to the gallery? What’s your take? Share it with us…and let people know what you think.

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