By Arun Srivastava
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has neither been a ‘Jan Andolan’ nor a mission. It is indeed doubtful whether it was the best tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019. The manner in which the so called mission was launched at Rajpath in New Delhi on 2 October 2014 showed that it was purely a populist programme meant for the image make over of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Abhiyan was neither a peoples’ movement nor a programme of the Sangh Parivar. It was aimed at presenting Modi as a visionary of modern India. It is basically a bureaucracy-organised plan and as such with limited scope of success. The people of the country have seen how during Indira’s Emergency how the government employees were channelized into programmes like family planning or eradicating corruption. But once Emergency was lifted the whole thing collapsed.
Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has already started crashing because it did not have the participation of common people. It was basically a drive for the social elites and rich to demonstrate their closeness to the power using photo opportunities. Modi exhorted people to make it a ‘Jan Andolan’ but it failed to acquire that character. It turned out to be an andolan without participation of people. While some government employees participated under duress, a large number used it to make money. The worst happened in Bihar.
A probe ordered by Patna district magistrate unearthed a scam involving officials of the state public health engineering department (PHED) who allegedly misappropriated nearly Rs 25 crore meant for construction of toilets in poor homes under the Swachh Bharat Mission. An internal audit found procedural irregularities in the withdrawal of funds. Senior state government officers, NGOs and bankers were involved the scam. Not less than four famous NGOs swindled the funds. The NGOs, after deducting their share, transferred the remainder back to the bank accounts of the officials. One of the scamsters has properties worth more than Rs 100 crore, including 40 flats in Patna and elsewhere.
The scam perpetrated under Swachh Bharat Mission (rural) and the state government-run “Lohiya Swachh Bihar Abhiyan” scheme was unearthed by some honest district officials. It was found that the money meant to be delivered to the beneficiaries was routed through a conglomerate of four NGOs, instead of being transferred directly.
While the Modi government has been spending huge funds on publicity of mission, the fact remains even today a huge number of scavengers are involved in the work of manual scavenging. Despite a number of laws and even strictures from the Supreme Court, the practice continues. Only recently three scavengers died in Thirupadiripuliyar.
Since 2014 after the Supreme Court passed an order prohibiting manual scavenging, at least 1,500 conservancy workers have reportedly died and this figure does not account for the innumerable “manhole deaths” that go under-reported or unnoticed. In reply to a question on manual scavenging in the Rajya Sabha on March 16, 2017, Thawar Chand Gehlot, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, stated that 13 states and union territories have “reported identification of 12,737 manual scavengers up to January, 2017”.
It is a sad commentary that some of the famous NGOs have been exploiting manual scavenging to make money. They have been collecting funds in the guise of being NGOs. With 39 deaths in the last 100 days of 2017 alone, it is a right time to ask how effective are the measures taken to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging.
As per the 2011 Socio-Economic and Case Census, 1,82,505 rural households in India were dependent on manual scavenging for income. In July 2016, a meeting was convened by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), where representatives of states and union territories shared data related to the number of dry latrines and manual scavengers. The data showed serious mismatches. As of December 2015, while Telangana reported 1,57,321 dry latrines but zero manual scavengers, Himachal Pradesh declared 854 dry latrines but zero manual scavengers and Chandigarh reported 4,391 dry latrines but only 3 manual scavengers. It is shame that the governments have been trying to conceal the real facts.
Modi spoke about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan but did not say anything about the death of manual scavengers. Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the focus has only been on toilet building and not on eradication of manual scavenging and the workers’ rehabilitation.