Today, the nation will be observing the first anniversary of the Swachh Bharat or Clean India programme, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He chose the birthday of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi to launch the programme.
The programme aims at constructing 800 million toilets with modern sewage systems by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation. By the end of the first anniversary of the launching of the programme, 200 million toilets were to be constructed.
After returning from the United States where he projected ‘Digital India’, Narendra Modi will perhaps get down to making an assessment of the success or otherwise of the Swach Bharat programme.
Gandhiji had exposed the nation to the need for having clean toilets. When he visited Champaran in 1917 to espouse the cause of Indigo plantation farmers, he was asked to stay in the house of Rajendra Prasad, a lawyer, who later became the first President of India. Rajendra Prasad was on tour. Looking at the way Gandhi was dressed, he was accommodated in the outhouse.
Gandhiji stayed in the outhouse, and used the bathroom there, and also cleaned it. Gandhiji’s support of the Indigo plantation workers made a big impact on the nation.
Later, Gandhi established his ashram at Wardha in Gujarat. At his residence, he had a pot , which had a sceptic tank in a simple dome shaped concrete cylinder partially below the ground outside the house . An iron pipe connecting the pot ran out of the toilet parallel to the wall . The pipe carried the bad fumes out from the toilet. The toilet was constructed in such a manner as to allow waste to flow out to the fields.
Bapu cleared his toilet himself and was once heard saying, “I learnt during my stay in the West that a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing room.”
I had the opportunity two years ago of going through the manuscript before publication of the late Siddavanahalli Krishna Sharma’s “Wardha Yatre”, originally written in Kannada, but translated by my mentor, late H. Y. Sharada Prasad.
On Gandhi Jayanti, I recall that my uncle, late U. S. Mohan Rao, who was the head of the Publications Division, presented me a copy of Gandhiji’s biography, My Experiments with Truth”, when I first arrived in Delhi and told me that what was unique in his life was that he was an average student. But in every case when he had gone astray, he posed for himself a promise “Never again”. And, he kept the promise. And grew. And, it has a lesson for all of us.
I had a brief exposure to Om Prakash Chautala, the former chief minister of Haryana. During his visits outside the state, he made it a point to ensure that every village had a public latrine, and tried his best to ensure that women did not have to go out into the fields to ease themselves.
On the first anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Programme on Gandhi Jayanti , the nation can reflect on the success or otherwise of the programme. Can we use the modern means of communication like ‘Digital India’ to promote it.
May be Modi will have his next “Man ki Baat” focussed on this.