By S P Singh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with great fanfare on October 2, 2104. Swachh Bharat is a laudable effort in idea & deed. But, apart from allegations that this is the UPA regime’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan rechristened, how effective has the it been? After spending hundreds of crore rupees on publicity and a few thousand photo opportunities later, is India any cleaner, or are we looking at the issue from the wrong end of an antiseptic broom in the wrong hands?
Of course there have been success stories along the way & they are laudable but was it the best way forward? Yes, awareness among the citizenry is essential, but shouldn't the message have been more in terms of waste segregation or persuading people to carry a cloth bag to the market, as it would help cut down on the menace of polythene bags. Shouldn't the local bodies who are paid crores, be made to clear up the waste more effectively? Currently what citizen efforts are achieving is the shifting of garbage & waste from one place to another & the problem continues to pile up at some different spot or landfill.
So while the prime minister's high voltage campaign rolls on, an attempt needs to be made to evaluate the achievements of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, to see how others in the world are doing it & ask ourselves if a course correction is required.
Ideally Swachh Bharat shouldn't only be focused towards cleaning up of public places, there is already a mechanism for that in place, ensure the local bodies do their work effectively. What is of infinite importance is how we ultimately deal with our waste. To have a really Swachh Bharat we need to turn waste disposal into an economic activity & an employment generator.
India needs to recycle and reuse its waste to the nth possible level, and this would convert the whole mission of having a Clean India to an employment generator but would also lead to a Green India. Examples of a successful clean-up by making it economically viable are already available. Ramesh Chauhan of Bisleri has developed a business model that gets PET bottles off the streets and makes money for everyone in the chain. Some sectors of industry too have latched on to the concept of making or saving money from waste & the cement industry is saving millions in energy costs.
Different countries have experimented in their own ways, to deal with their own particular set of problems, so while Sweden is churning out energy from garbage and has become so good at it, that it has to import garbage from other countries of Europe to keep its "Waste To Energy" plants running, but also gets paid by the garbage exporting countries. Sweden also sends back the ash & just one percent of its own ash ends up in landfills. Freshwater starved Israel recycles and uses about eighty six percent of its sewage to irrigate its farms and China is building Expressways using construction waste, freeing up landfills and preventing environmental degradation.
Swachh Bharat is an ideal, Swaach Bharat can also be economically profitable. The technology is already available in many instances, and India can replicate it with suitable adaptations. Once the economic spinoff begins, investment and research for better and more effective technologies too will come in and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan may well end up becoming the showpiece of Start-up India Stand up India. Till then it risks remaining, at best a slogan and at its worst a photo opportunity for politicians.
The writer is a volunteer of the Indian National Congress