February 4, 2023 2:50 pm

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Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: From An Idea To Mass Movement

The roots of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan can be found almost a century ago in the thoughts and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi

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Swacch Bharat Abhiyan

Eight years ago, PM Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on 2 October, 2014 to achieve universal sanitation coverage. It soon became a ‘Janandolan’ as Indians actively participated in the mission. The mission is still ongoing but it is necessary to look into the merits of the widely acclaimed and accepted mass movement.

PM Narendra Modi launching Swacch Bharat Abhiyan
PM Narendra Modi launching Swacch Bharat Abhiyan


The Roots of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

Before getting into the merits of this successful mass campaign, one has to look beyond it and look for inspiration.

The roots can be found almost a century ago in the thoughts and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. The Indian leader had repeatedly emphasised cleanliness and personal sanitation in his writings and speeches.

Not only Pre-Independence India but even after 1947 several initiatives were launched to eliminate open defecation. The first formal sanitation programme was first launched in 1954, followed by Central Rural Sanitation Programme in 1986.

The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was started in 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 2012 by the Manmohan Singh government. These campaigns were mostly on paper and failed to achieve their targets. 

Around 55 crore people in rural areas were without a toilet facility before 2014. This was severely impacting the health, and also the dignity of people in rural areas, especially of women and children.

Commencement of the Mission

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by PM Narendra Modi is aimed at making India, ‘open-defecation free’ till 2 October, 2019.  The other objectives included eradication of manual scavenging, generating awareness and bringing about a behaviour change regarding sanitation practices. 

A poster of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan
A poster of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

The mission was split into two: rural and urban. One of the key objective was to increase the rural toilet coverage. The rural household toilet coverage in India was 1% in 1981 and stood at 32.7% in 2011. An estimated 600 million people defecated in the open, the highest of any country in the world.

As part of the campaign, volunteers, known as Swatchhagrahis, promoted the construction of toilets using a popular method called Community-Led Total Sanitation at the village level.

PM Modi also selected several public figures to propagate this campaign which included the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Priyanka Chopra, Baba Ramdev, Salman Khan and Shashi Tharoor.

Impact of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

According to government data, 10.28 crore toilets were constructed in 36 states/UTs till 2019.

Consequently, 4,234 cities and more than 600,000 villages across the country have declared themselves open defecation free till 2019. As a result of the Swachh Bharat Mission, 55 crore people changed their behaviour and started using toilets.

The Swachh Bharat Mission has also resulted in an annual profit of more than ₹50,000 per household in rural India due to reduced spending on diseases such as diarrhoea.

Praise for the Initiative

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is the largest sanitation drive ever taken place in the world. Over the course of years, it has been highly acclaimed for its visionary approach and implementation.

Indian PM Narendra Modi was praised for his apolitical movement both from national and international critics.

The World Health Organization stated in a report that at least 180,000 diarrhoeal deaths were averted in rural India since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a perfect case study of how mass participation brings a fundamental ground transformation in the society.

Yash Rawat
Yash Rawat

Its been hard to express myself so here I am.. writing.

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