By Elton Gomes
Henrietta Fore, the executive director of the UNICEF, has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for investing “political time and efforts” in issues like health and sanitation.
“If you invest a dollar in sanitation solutions, the benefit will be four dollars in terms of health cost prevention, the (reduction in) number of visits you go to a doctor and in the medicines that you don’t have to buy,” Fore told PTI in an interview.
Fore was attending an event in Mumbai that was organised jointly by the UNICEF and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) on Friday.
Alluding to PM Modi’s Swacch Bharat mission, Fore said, “The prime minister invested political time and effort and what it meant was people began picking up that story. They want to do it for Mahatma Gandhi, for their country and they felt pride in it,” as per the PTI report.
With an aim to clean India’s streets, roads, and infrastructure, PM Modi had launched the Swacch Bharat mission in 2014. The cleanliness initiative had an ambitious objective of achieving a “Clean India” by October 2, 2019.
Fore’s comments on PM Modi came after the prime minister and French President Emmanuel Macron were jointly awarded the UN’s “Champions of the Earth” award.
Contribution to sanitation helps in paying attention to other aspects
Fore said, “It (contribution to sanitation) doesn’t have an economic return but when you begin to feel that your community is doing better, it makes you look around at the other things that need improvement”, PTI reported.
She further said, “It makes one think that does he have clean water and the solutions for open defecation for all animals in their village, is there a community healthcare clinic, is there enough nutrition for children; not just latrines, what about lighted pathways for all of the girls going to schools. It makes you improve your world.”
Responding to a question about UNICEF’s view on the child mortality rate in India during the past decade, Fore said, “Since 1990s, when the numbers first began, there was a significant reduction in child mortality. Sanitation, clean India should bring numbers down further. What we don’t know yet is how much further they should bring them down. But it’s an exciting journey for India and we really are on the right path.”
Fore felt that health could be a problem that India faces: “Clean water brings health benefits in a way that many other national strategies cannot,” she said, PTI reported.
Fore then said that learning new skills could pose another challenge for a developing nation like India: “(Another challenge is to) How to get more women in labour force…The number of women in formal labour force is going down. If only a third of total women in India are in formal employment, it is not high enough to get all of ideas and energy of India.”
She added that malnutrition could be another challenge. “This is because if a young child does not get proper nutrition before the age of three and first thousand days, it could affect the development of her brain as well as body. It means they cannot be productive, it means the economy will not be doing so well,” she said.
How effective has the Swachh Bharat mission been?
After coming to power in 2014, PM Modi launched several projects. In June 2018, the Centre launched the Swajal scheme so that India’s rural areas get sustained water supply. The government funded 90 per cent of the scheme, while 10% was funded by beneficiary communities.
The government aimed to achieve the objective of Housing for All by the year 2022 and launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY). The Modi government then launched a financial inclusion scheme, which was known as the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana. The scheme’s objective was to ensure access to financial services such as banking, savings and deposit accounts, remittance, credit, insurance, pension in an affordable manner.
In his Independence Day speech in 2015, Modi promised that all villages would be electrified within 1,000 days. He launched the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana in this regard. The most recent initiative launched by Modi was the Ayushman Bharat healthcare scheme. The Modi government has launched several schemes – some of which were rejected, while some others failed, and the government was lauded for their initiatives.
Although PM Modi has been praised for the Swacch Bharat campaign, several reports raise questions over the programme’s efficacy. According to NewsClick, a parliamentary committee report observed that the dream of “total sanitation for all and a clean India is still elusive”.
Headed by Dr P. Venugopal, the Parliamentary Committee on Rural Development dismissed the claim of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation that roughly 84% of India’s rural areas have sanitation coverage as of May 24, 2018.
The committee’s report said that funds worth Rs 14,087 crore were sitting idle. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh had unspent funds amounting to Rs 2,836.82 crore, Rs 2,764.62 crores, and Rs 866.68 crore, respectively.
The report observed that Modi’s “ambitious” project has to do much more in order to bring about a behavioural change in the rural populace to attain the real motive behind the scheme.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius