Swacch Bharat: an ambition replete with cynicism and unanswered questions

The Swacch Bharat Mission or Clean India Campaign has gathered enough attention from  both media and digital citizenry to create a difference. The ambitious campaign calls out for a dirt-free India by October 2, 2019. Cynicism is obvious for we are in a country that generates enough garbage to cover 2,20,000 football fields piled 9 meters high in garbage (as per an estimate done by TERI in 1998 about garbage generated till 2011). And with more than half the population lacking access to safe sanitation facilities, our cynicism and questions multiply further.

Nevertheless, the fad of broomance has overtaken Ministers, people and celebrities alike. Social media is flooded with images of Before and After  the clean stake. The mass movement is good news. Infact, great news. Considering the same set of people for might have never taken heed of the filthy-ness of India’s public places before.

Like the #IceBucketChallenge where one tweeple challenged another to pour icy-cold water over their head in order to raise awareness for sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The #CleanGarbageChallenge has found its takers with Modi extending personal invites or challenges to celebs from Sachin Tendulkar to Anil Ambani, Priyanka Chopra and surprise surprise, Shashi Tharoor, a congressman.


So, the streets were (pre)laid, Ambassadors now roped in, media coverage set but the “campaign” plan and agenda remains unclear. Each social campaign comes with a set of aims, objectives, and key deliverables. These let people understand and decide for themselves whether they would like to participate. In the case of Clean India Campaign, however, these are still to be dug out of the Kachra heap by the epitome of cleanliness at work currently.

While the how still hazy, the budgetary allocations sporadically reported believe that Rs. 2 lakh crore will be spent on the Mission over the next five years.

While Union Rural Development Minister Nitin Gadkari said the bulk — Rs.1.34 lakh crore — would be ploughed into rural areas, Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the urban component would cost Rs. 62,009 crore.

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Summing up the Modi-ern way of campaigning goes from step 1: Catching eyeballs aka create free marketing and image makeover opportunity for one and all is complete. Step 2: Raise public conscience towards the problem. Step 3: Announce budget allocations. Step 4: Sweep out environmental clearances, revise Forest Policy, review environmental policies.

In related news, recently the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the government’s top body for assessing and monitoring forests, announced that nearly 90% of coal bearing forest areas could be opened up for mining and recommended that mining be barred in just 11% of forest areas with proven reserves of the dry fuel. This is a significant reduction from the 29% forest area that had been demarcated as out of bounds for coal mining. Also, let’s not forget Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s absence from participating in  UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon’s Climate summit considering India is world’s third biggest carbon emitter. (Source:

Meanwhile, universities and schools have been asked to contribute actively towards the campaign. It is interesting since the Swachta drive’s premise being the Gandhian ideology, it comes as a shock that instead of humble coercion to participate, bureaucrats, professors and students are almost forced to take on jhadoos.

All said and sweeped, the question remains: what happens to the Kachra collected? Will it simply land up atop garbage heaps on dumping grounds? How will Swacch Bharat prevent human scavenging? Worse of all, cleanliness is a subjective term. It is a term replete with religious interpretations and notions of what is and is not dirty, impure or unsightly. Consider this example:

When DMK was last in power in Tamil Nadu, the then Minister of Local Administration M.K. Stalin launched a campaign called Singara Chennai or Beautiful Chennai. Like with SwachhBharat, it is difficult to argue against a campaign to beautify a place we love. But beauty, like dirt, is in the eye of the beholder. Post Singara Chennai, the city is no different now in terms of garbage. But in the process, at least 20,000 slumdweller families have been evicted in the name of beautifying the city; they were relocated to tenements in Kannagi Nagar and Semmencheri which lie between 20 and 30 km from the city. Dirt here is a metaphor that could just as easily refer to people as to material objects. (Source:

The Swacch Bharat mission has a simple premise of cleanliness that harbors dream of a garbage-free, spit-ridden, sanitary and hygienic India. Would it just be clean makeover for the elite consumerists class of Indians or would it find a solution to rid its poor of diseases due to unhygienic conditions remains unanswered. Can we hope for better waste management and sanitation systems or simply relish the digitally-enhanced pictures from enthused citizens?

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