Swachh Bharat

Mr. Narendra Modi, then a prime ministerial candidate, in his run up to the general elections of 2014 while filling up his candidature from Varanasi – holy city for Hindus voiced for Swachh Bharat – meaning Clean India – a movement to improve the despair condition of sanitation, clean drinking water and polluted surrounding 1. He is even trying to use this initiative as an effective foreign policies which was evident in his recent Japan visit 2. This article is written to illustrate the scope, challenges and limitations of what Indian government will be facing in ‘Clean India Drive’.

‘Toilet first, Temple later’ (Pehle shauchalaya phir devalaya)

In his campaigns, Mr. Modi expressed his thoughts to prioritize toilets’ building over the temples, if he were to become Prime Minister, essentially highlighted the issue of lack of sanitation in India. According to the 2011 Census, 69.3% of 167.8 million rural households in India currently lack toilets3. This dire situation has been a prime cause of many health related issues in India. In absence latrine facility, majorly, an open defection is practiced which leads to diarrhea-related diseases. In India, alone, 200,000 children die4 (out of 700,000 in the whole world) every year because these issues. Indian government have at several times tried to revive its primary health-care policies, in the past, however leading to increased investment has not shown improved results yet. Importantly, lack of toilets has been the very cause of increased crimes against women 4. (In the recent case of rape, the victims in UP had been out in the darkness of night to relieve themselves). India has spent whopping US $23530000, measured till 2009, in water and sanitation with private participation according to the World Bank 5. In this context, when Prime Minister, once again, voiced for voiced for the ‘Clean India’-drive, especially asked for the active participation from India’s corporate sector, under  Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR). N. Chandrasekaren – CEO & MD of, India’s largest software, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) announced to donate 1 billion rupees (~16 million USD) to provide hygienic sanitation facility for 10000 schools for girls. Further, Sunil Bharti Mittal has announced to donate same amount for the cause in Ludhiana over next 3 years, through his Bharati Foundation6,7,8. These changes, within 100 days of this new government, are certainly optimistic changes in health care and sanitation. Moreover, when India is emerging as a fast growing democratic economy in south-east Asia, number of deaths due to lack of basic sanitation is alarming and such active initiatives from corporate houses and government, jointly, can be able to propel the drive for better living standards.

‘Cleaning Ganges

If providing toilet was in Mr. Modi’s agenda, so was cleaning Ganges. While, filing his nomination from Varanasi, he seemed overwhelmed and emotionally touched with the thought of opportunity to serve Ganges (As Ganges is also, along with others, considered one of the deities in Hinduism. People in India worship the mother Ganges). Ganges, necessarily being one of the major rivers of India since ancient days it has been a home to many civilizations and cities, is extremely polluted, even to take a bath. Such a dreadful situation is caused due to the fact that the installed capacity water and/or sewage treatment plants in the 50 big towns, situated along Ganges, is 1.2 million litres daily however, the human waste generated counts 2.7 billion litres, more than double 9,10. The leather treatment industry in Kanpur is adding millions of chemical-laced untreated waste in the holy water of Ganges. Mr. Modi’s government, though, in its first budget have allotted 20.4 billion rupees (USD 340 million), have to keep in mind that many governments have tried unsuccessfully to clean Ganges, before10. Some the foreign governments and companies have also offered to give experts’ support to the government in its ‘Mission Ganges’11,12. The government has already put the right foot forward by implementing toxicity sensors 11,13. However, one of the major issues in implementing any advanced technical solution is lack of localized-real time data of the water condition, such as BOD and COD. Especially, in India, where there is no segregation of hazardous industrial wastes from domestic wastes, as well as bio degradable and bio non-degradable separation of domestic wastes is missing. The new Kyoto-Varanasi pact14 to develop later into a smart-city can work as a boon in bringing new investments and infrastructure to treat the wastes, even before it reaches the Ganges. However, increased opportunities of jobs will attract many populations to the city, leading to increasing waste generation itself, and add fuel to the sulking issue of Ganges.

Importantly, with swelling cities, Indian rivers are getting dirtier every passing day and with the humungous magnitude of this critical issue is making it even harder to formulate any solutions. With many failed attempts by previous governments to clean-up Indian rivers, with some exceptional positive results, what remains to be seen is, how Mr. Modi government tackles this predicament to keep its electoral besides can ‘Mission Ganges’ become the first model, to be followed for other rivers, for cleaning rivers as well as when, exactly, ‘Mother Ganges’ will breathe freely and actually be healthy and holy?

-Ranjit Desai

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of collaborative policy consultants.


  1. Narendra Modi files nomination, says “Ma Ganga has called me to Varanasi” – The Times of India. at <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/Narendra-Modi-files-nomination-says-Ma-Ganga-has-called-me-to-Varanasi/articleshow/34147322.cms&gt;
  2. PM in Japan, Day 1: Modi and Abe sign MoU to develop Varanasi into Kyoto-like “smart city” | The Indian Express | Page 99. at <http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/india-japan-sign-mou-to-develop-varanasi-into-kyoto-like-smart-city/99/&gt;
  3. Absence of toilets at home robs women of basic human dignity – Hindustan Times. at <http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/absence-of-toilets-at-home-rob-women-of-basic-human-dignity/article1-1229654.aspx&gt;
  4. How A Lack Of Toilets Puts India’s Women At Risk Of Assault : Parallels : NPR. at <http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/06/09/319529037/indias-rape-uproar-ignites-demand-to-end-open-defecation&gt;
  5. Why Invest in Sanitation? | WSP. at <http://www.wsp.org/content/why-invest-sanitation&gt;
  6. TCS, Bharti pledge Rs 200 cr to Modi’s Clean India drive | Business Standard News. at <http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/tcs-pledges-rs-100-cr-for-pm-s-clean-india-initiative-114081800590_1.html&gt;
  7. TCS News & Events: Press Release : TCS Pledges Rs 100 crore for PM’s Clean India initiative. at <http://www.tcs.com/news_events/press_releases/pages/tcs-pm-clean-india-initiative.aspx&gt;
  8. TCS announces Rs 100 crore for PM’s “Clean India” initiative | The Indian Express. at <http://indianexpress.com/article/business/companies/tcs-announces-rs-100-crore-for-pms-clean-india-initiative/&gt;
  9. Can Modi clean the Ganges, India’s biggest sewerage line? – Newspaper – DAWN.COM. at <http://www.dawn.com/news/1119876&gt;
  10. Can Modi clean the Ganges, India’s biggest sewage line? – Hindustan Times. at <http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/can-modi-clean-the-ganges-india-s-biggest-sewage-line/article1-1241274.aspx&gt;
  11. Ganges River: Revered, Soiled and Symbol of an Indian Election Campaign – NYTimes.com. at <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/world/asia/ganges-river-revered-soiled-and-symbol-of-an-indian-election-campaign.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias:r,{“2”:“RI:17”}&_r=0>
  12. Germany keen to offer expertise for Ganga clean-up mission – Economic Times. at <http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-07-24/news/51982116_1_ganga-rhine-mission&gt;
  13. Ganga cleaning begins; toxin sensors installed – Hindustan Times. at <http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ganga-cleaning-takes-off-toxin-sensors-to-keep-tabs-beep-alerts/article1-1254836.aspx&gt;
  14. PM in Japan, Day 1: Modi and Abe sign MoU to develop Varanasi into Kyoto-like “smart city” | The Indian Express. at <http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/india-japan-sign-mou-to-develop-varanasi-into-kyoto-like-smart-city/&gt;

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