Swachh Bharat Campaign: My Thoughts

31 Oct

Now that (apparently) the initial euphoria around the Swachh Bharat initiative has died down and people are settling back to their normal course of action, here are my thoughts on this great initiative.

The Swachh Bharat initiative is my long term wish for India come true. The moment I set my foot on western hemisphere almost a couple of decades ago, I realized how different surroundings can be made to look like. After relocating back to India a while ago, lack of cleanliness has been one of my big pain points that I have been trying fix across the board.

The Swachh Bharat initiative by our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is right on spot and we all should thrive to see a clean and green India. However, just like many of the good initiatives, this one might make people get carried away in executing it the wrong way.

For an initiative to get popularity, we either need to document widespread participation or measurable results. Some popular initiatives get their popularity due to participation and others get popularity due to socializing of sustained results. Often, people take the first route and document the participation. Three hundred people posting their pictures on a social networking site for an event gets an event more popularity than documenting the fact that three thousand people actually participated in it.

People seem to be more inclined to post their participation in Swachh Bharat by clicking a few pictures while cleaning up a road or premises. I haven’t seen anyone posting a picture of a road or premises that stayed clean over a period of time.

In other words, instead of fixing the symptoms, we should fix the root cause and make sure that the symptoms don’t show up time and again. That is the best sustainable path to success.

For Swachh Bharat to become a lifestyle (not just an initiative), we need to focus on the following:

  • Reducing the opportunities to make any road or premises unclean. For example, Indian Railways came a long way in keeping many platforms and stations in clean state when compared to 15 years ago. The train tracks, compartments and some stations are not clean enough yet, but we have seen a good improvement recently. All they did is to force every vendor to keep a trash bin next to the stall and increased the number of general purpose trash bins. This led people to eventually get to the habit of using the trash bins than platforms to dump the waste. We need to take similar approach to ensure that people participate more in keeping things clean than making things clean.
  • Ensuring that people understand the importance of keeping things clean. We need to slowly, but surely, eradicate the “not my job” attitude when it comes to keeping public and common places clean. Some part of it comes from forced legislation (I like the positive impact of “No smoking in public places” rule) and rest of it should come from people’s belief and passion. This is where politicians and celebrities can help by taking the message to masses. I like a celebrity’s picture of cleaning a road, but that should somehow translate to a message that keep things clean first.
  • Clean up – This is how the initiative is currently being perceived in mass media. Even though it is a good start, it should slowly get to the back stage and give room to the other two focus points mentioned above. Clean ups should be regular, can even be voluntary by people who are no way in that role, but shouldn’t be just momentary.

In summary, I want to see Swachh Bharat to become a lifestyle than an being an initiative by our Prime Minister. We all should focus on keeping places clean than cleaning up places as an aftereffect. That way, we can head to seeing a sustainable Swachh Bharat.

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