Sunday, March 15, 2015

Shot in the arm for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

I don’t usually get excited about the Indian union budget. It is always almost pretty much the same. Few carrots here and there to please the vote bank, otherwise mostly it is the same, “old wine in new bottle". 

But the Union Budget 2015 was a bit of a surprise. The usual vote bank carrots were surprisingly missing. In fact most common response to the budget from people was that the budget was in favor of corporations, because of 25% reduction in corporate tax and it was against the common man, because of the increase in service tax from 12.36% to 14.42%. Though the percentage increase in service tax looks small, the net impact could be quite big because of the ripple effect it could have on all services and commodities. It always does!

For me, the main surprise was the budget allocated for building Six Crores of toilets across the country under “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”.

I was quite skeptic of the whole thing when “Swachh Bharat” was initiated in October 2014, with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rustling some dead leaves, surrounded by cricketers, film stars and other celebrities. 

That was followed by some of his ministers getting on to the streets with much fanfare  and doing the sweeping act. It was reported in the media that truck loads of garbage was ordered to be spread on the streets for the ministers to sweep. That was very amusing news! India is not exactly Singapore or Switzerland where you have to go looking for garbage. In fact when you step out of the house you have to be very careful not to step onto garbage or dirt. Then why would the ministers order for truck loads of garbage to be spread on the streets! The only answer for that may very well be, "the ministers needed sanitized garbage instead of doing their sweeping act with stinky and smelly garbage".

The Prime Minister also  managed to rope in big names like Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan to join in the campaign. In one of the media coverage’s, Sachin Tendulkar was being interviewed by a senior journalist out in the street. Amitabh Bachchan also joined in on audio. "Big B" talking to "The God"!

Before the discussion could get down to serious business, Amitabh Bachchan took a dig at the dark glasses Sachin was wearing. That only made Sachin squirm in embarrassment. The tone and the way Amitabh Bachchan said it, it really sounded more like pulling the leg than compliment! It is amazing how celebrities vie for "one-upmanship"!

Amitabh Bachchan opined that in Switzerland, school students were made to clean streets as part of punishment if they were caught flouting school rules. He suggested the same could be adopted in India also. What a wonderful and novel idea! Most children cannot clean their own rooms but we would be seeing them cleaning the streets! That will be the day!

In Switzerland they have different colored trash bins for different types of trash. Even if anyone is caught throwing trash in the wrong trash bin, they would be fined heavily. In India we do not have such a problem. Even if you are a civic minded and law abiding citizen, it would first need a big effort to find a trash bin. Even if you find one, you cannot even get near it. Being crazy fans of cricket, all you could do is take a shy at the trash bin and hope it falls somewhere close to the trash bin.

Building a “Clean India”  is serious work. It needs dedicated manpower, lots of investment and lots and lots of awareness programs. It cannot be achieved through part time involvement of celebrities. Using celebrities to attract the attention of cricket and film crazy public may work to an extent, nothing beyond that. After all, the celebrities too have a living to make and of course they have to worry about their personal glory as well. They may get their fifteen minutes every time they appear for the campaign, but beyond that they need their own time to continue to be in the limelight! No amount of public adulation and worship is enough for celebrities!

The allocation of budget is definitely a shot in the arm for the “Swachh Bharat" mission. Let us hope that it is the beginning of a much needed clean living for our country. But it cannot happen without positive attitude and realization of the importance of personal hygiene from the people. It cannot happen without honest efforts from men and women entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the projects. 

The success of the campaign depends on answers to many questions.
  • Will the money be spent honestly for its purpose or will it go into deep pockets of corrupt and shameless individuals and greedy corporations? 
  • Are there enough controls to ensure accountability and ensure that the money is spent according to plans? 
  • Will the public provide the support that is so important for the success of the campaign? 
  • Will the public and the politicians rise above political party affiliations? 
  • Will the states cooperate with the central government?

We have to wait and see, only time will tell!


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