Swachhta is more than just toilet construction

Saturday, 24 October 2020



OPINION | Swachhta is more than just toilet construction

Swapnil Bharali | October 08, 2018 13:17 hrs

I Googled “Swachhta in Guwahati” the other day and the results that came in almost made me believe that Guwahati had become as clean as any Japanese city! The first three results: Sarbananda Sonowal inaugurates campaign on Swachhta Hi Sewa (Sept 16, 2018), NFR (Construction) observes Swachhta Hi Sewa Pakhwara (Sept 17, 2018), Tourism Ministry organizes Swachhta Hi Sewa activities across the state (Sept 19, 2018) … the results kept on harping Swachhta Hi Sewa. On close scrutiny, I found that even after four years of the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on 2nd October, 2014 – that is, in the very first year of the formation of the Narendra Modi government – Swachhta in Guwahati still remains about the spread of awareness without any tangible visual results and with marginal success in terms of statistics. But as the saying goes, “Statistics is like a bikini. What it reveals is suggestive, what it conceals is vital.”

Unfortunately, statistics at the moment are only available for the whole of Assam and not for Guwahati alone. The available statistics offer an encouraging picture in terms of figures. For example, 96.91% of the state’s households have Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) as on 2nd October, 2018 – a quantum jump from 41.28% on the same date four years ago. From this revelation it can be safely inferred that the district administration of Kamrup (Metro) was true to itself and to us residents of Guwahati, when it, on March 7, 2017, having achieved its targets set forth under the Swachh Bharat Mission’s objectives, was set to declare the district as the first open-defecation-free district of the northeast India.

But the point of concern starts right here. After four years of a Mission as serious and massive as Swachh Bharat, launched under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister of India, and set to conclude in one year as a fitting tribute to the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, if it is still about building awareness on cleanliness in Guwahati, I guess somewhere, something is going terribly wrong. And the statistics are painting an unwarranted rosy picture about just one aspect of cleanliness – defecating indoors - and which does not tell the true story in a holistic manner. 

At G Plus, we get taken quite by surprise at the disdain and angst expressed by our followers whenever we post pictures on our digital channels of drains clogged with plastic bottles or even roadside garbage piled up for days. In fact, one update of ours that went viral with contemptuous comments was a photograph of the paan spit stains on the Maligaon foot over-bridge just days after the structure was spruced up for the inauguration of the newly installed elevators. So, by all stretch of imagination, Guwahati remains a filthy city and despite all the awareness campaigns by the government and administrations, notwithstanding the photos of high officials donning broomsticks and videos of ministers cleaning up already clean toilets with their own hands. It is clear that in four years’ time, the awareness campaigns have not worked in changing people’s attitude and perception towards cleanliness. And it is also clear that this is not going to happen in the next one by whence the Swachh Bharat Mission will come to an end and there will be no fitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. It will be just an ordinary dry day from the realist’s point of view.

There are basically two ways out of this mess. The administration can truly enforce the law with all seriousness. And keep at it with tenacity for as long as it takes till citizens, for sheer fear of the law than any personal realization, stops dirtying the city. As is evident, a bit of enforcement by the police and the city’s traffic is somewhat streamlined today. 

The citizens – including all those who get moved by our pictures of filth on our digital channels – take it upon ourselves to nudge the other constantly not to litter and beyond that, even go on to admonish strangers who litter, spit, openly urinate and defecate. 

Four years of plain awareness generation by the various government departments hasn’t been successful in penetrating the thick Guwahatian skull; it may be well inferred that another year of the same is not going to yield any better results. Some (not all) Guwahatians are totally impervious to the concepts of cleanliness and hygiene – especially of their surroundings. The solution revolves around shaming these offenders in public both by the administration and public in tandem. Only then will Guwahati become clean in the true sense. All statistics on cleanliness cannot be only about IHHLs only; the streets of the city are equally important.

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