Cleaner India, Greener India

“I will go with the future generations … we must leave for our future generations a climate wherein they can breathe clean air and have a healthy life,” was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response when he was asked about India’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change deal.  He vowed that his nation would go “above and beyond” the 2015 accord. While we often take the promises of career politicians with a grain of salt, Narendra Modi’s commitment to the environment has been constant and cannot be questioned. His steadfast and environmentally-conscious beliefs about how India should be in terms of infrastructure, sustainability, and quality of life have been so powerful that they won him the election and are bringing about a much needed ‘behavior change’ in the country.

On the campaign trail in 2014, one of Modi’s key promises was to make the country Open-Defecation free by 2019. While sanitation and hygiene may seem like basic necessities accessible to all, the Indian government has lacked the resources and capital to provide them to all of its constituents of 1.2 billion. This problem has been particularly severe in the rural areas of the nation, where literacy rates are also low. In a 2015 survey by the Kulhar Research Organisation, they found that the toilets in India only provide coverage for 39% of the population. To combat this and other sanitation and cleanliness issues, Modi spearheaded the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Yogana (the Clean India Movement). This initiative was met with widespread support and has made ground-breaking progress thus far. Towards the goal of making India open-defecation free, there have been 55.2 million toilets built in the past 3 years as 248,000 villages, 1,200 cities, and five states have been declared open-defecation free. In comparison, there were only about 300,000 toilets built in the 10 years prior to the commencement of the movement[1]. A follow-up survey by the Kulhar Organisation in 2017 found that toilet coverage has increased significantly to 69% of the population today.

What is most remarkable about the progress of the Clean India Movement is the approach the government employed. The policies and programs used by the government were entrepreneurial and community-driven in nature. To reach the lower socioeconomic strata, the government began sanctioning loans solely for the purpose of building toilets. In addition to that, they also subsidised the cost of the required materials and connected the borrowers to contractors so that they could finish the process. Furthermore, the government has equipped public toilets in larger cities with showering facilities to increase hygiene levels and quality of life for the homeless.

Cleaner India, Greener India

The Clean India Movement, a five year program, has been pervasive in other areas of urban development as well. It is closely linked with the Smart Cities Mission, an urban renewal and retrofitting program to stimulate economic growth and improve quality of life in one hundred cities of the nation. This mission has also amassed a considerable amount of support because of its ingenious structure. The cities selected for the program are rated on criteria such as cleanliness, tourism, infrastructure, et cetera; and proceed to compete with each other for funding. The higher on the rankings your city is, the more funding it gets, and thus has a better urban landscape. This system has been particularly effective in getting the public involved, which is evident from the dramatic increase in the numbers of cleanliness drives and environmental awareness rallies. Moreover, the government also released an app to track the aforementioned rankings in addition to being a medium for the users to connect with their municipality offices about any issues that need attention.

In addition to their urban plans, the Indian government has also altered their economic and energy policies to become more environmentally responsible. Renewable energy sources are being subsidised while small hydropower projects are being undertaken to power rural areas. Recently, some state governments took charge of the war on climate change and banned the sale of firecrackers in the face of Diwali. This was met with a heavy backlash from the public as a popular way of celebrating Diwali is by bursting firecrackers. However, the dissent is expected to subside as the ‘behavior change’ that Modi has been urging is slowly manifesting. Sch that the future of India looks cleaner and greener with every coming day.


[1]Hardeep S Puri, Minister of State – Housing and Urban Affairs

Written by Vishesh Anand

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