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Swachh Bharat Abhiyan:A Critical Appraisal

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan:A Critical Appraisal

By Sudarshan R Kattoi

Edited by Anandita Malhotra

It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures”–Article 51 A (g) of Constitution of India

Swach Bharat Abhiyan or the Clean India Programme launched by Narendra Modi Government has ignited our civic sense in regard to cleanliness. It has got wide publicity as of now. I was quite interested to look closer to the details. I began scanning through all the photographs of this massive campaign rolled out with much fanfare and received massive media attention throughout the country. I could find a pattern and this begged the question of its desired effect.

All of the photographs showed the process of cleaning the roadsides and institutional premises filled with fallen leaves of trees. When I looked around my vicinity that is what I could find out. Cleaning has been reduced to removing the fallen leaves. Are only dried leaves which make India dirty? I don’t think so. It is the ill-managed sewerage system, lack of public toilets and urinals, indiscriminate use and disposal of plastics, spitting on the public spaces, defecating and urinating on the public roads, manual scavenging all of which that makes India messy, stinky and deplorable at times.

It is an effort that needs to be lauded but whether   it is going to achieve its desired effect is a debatable issue. Does burning of piled up leaves serve to bring about cleanliness? I am quite skeptical. Leaves when burnt destroy the rich sources of carbon which is required to be amalgamated with the soil as it serves as an essential nutrient for plants. It also causes air pollution and a tree’s long standing effort to procure carbon is made to go waste instantaneously.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan appears to be cleaning for the sake of cleaning. The texture and process of the programme, if paid closer attention to, gives the impression that it was ill conceived without much deliberations and intelligent planning. The Prime Minister, after announcing the scheme on Gandhi Jayanti was seen wielding the broom and cleaning a road in New Delhi which was filled with leaves. It would have been much more constructive for the PM if he had chosen a place to pick up plastic wastes and thereby exhort our countrymen to stop throwing used plastic carry bags around. Many would have been happy if he had gone to the railway station and had announced some rehabilitation programmes for the manual scavengers employed by the Indian Railways to clean up human excreta strewn on the platforms.


Plastic carry bags are often disposed indiscriminately even in the rural areas with leftover food which are thronged by fellow animals, including cows. In their attempt to unwrap the bag to get the food inside, after failing to do so eat the plastic bags which cause immense pain and suffering to these voiceless animals. Recently the Chief Justice of India had spoken immensely on the government for the utter passiveness shown by the government towards animal suffering and implementation of  environmental laws in the country.

“Has any state government shown sympathy to these poor animals till now? These photographs are sickening. Is there any seriousness on the part of the State governments to implement laws? I will call the principal secretaries of all the States show them the photos and ask them to put them up in their drawing rooms. Fifty kg of plastic! Do you know the pain the cow must have undergone even as humans like you sit in air-conditioned rooms, saying you have made laws? How much does it cost you to print a statute? This is extreme cruelty to animals,” Mr. Duttu, Chief Jusitice remarked; a salute to Mr. Duttu for his noble and humane judicial acumen.

The reason why the judiciary had to intervene exemplifies the total failure of the Executive in safeguarding constitutional provisions of right to life, pollution free environment and animal rights. In this context, it is doubtful as to whether the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign is comprehensively framed to address some of these most pressing issues.


The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan could have been much more impactful if it was clubbed with issuance of certain ordinances or Act giving more teeth to the Environment Polluton Act and at the same time invigorating the existing environmental laws. For example, issuance of an ordinance to prohibit the manufacture, sale, use and indiscriminate disposal of plastic bags which can go a long way in protecting animals that are consequently face immense suffering. At a time when the whole world is talking about global warming and conservation of biodiversity we are reminded of the very fact that human beings are just a strand in the huge network of living organisms. Even Mahabharata was precocious to explain that connection. “The tiger perishes without the forest and the forest perishes without the tigers.” We destroyed all our forests indiscriminately, the result of which our national-animal population has dwindled alarmingly. There is an inviolable symbiotic relationship between every single organism in this world which needs to be acknowledged and accepted. We are harming ourselves and the multiple strands of life when we harm each and every living being.

Showing respect and kindness to animals who are weaker than us who can neither voice their complaints nor put it in paper really shows how civilized we are. Ancient Indian King Ashoka had made provisions even to provide drinking water to animals creating a harmonious eco system to flourish all forms of life. So restructuring the environment for their safe use by including such strategies in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan seems to be of paramount importance. Even wild animals have been reported to have been affected by the plastics disposed in the priority forest areas causing death of our rich fauna.

It is high time we took solid steps to free the country from such perilous ills like alarming environmental pollution which results in serious animal rights violations and human rights issues like manual scavenging. It is a shame for the largest democracy to deploy manual scavengers even on its largest public sector undertaking-the Indian Railways even after the enactment of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation Act, 2013. Implementation of existing laws with vitality and vigour is the need of the hour in a country where even court directions and laws are not being put to action in letter and spirit. There are grave issues in the railways like manual scavenging which if addressed can  give Indian railways a humane and democratic face. Introduction of multi-crore bullet trains across India may not make us proud if we have our own brethren continuing with manual scavenging to earn a living. Dovetailing of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with these concerns can bring the desired effect.

In conclusion, it sounds that more deliberations are required in terms of the Swacchh Bharat Abhiyan. First and foremost, it needs to be operationally defined. What does the government mean by Swachh or Clean India? Is it just about wielding brooms to remove the leaves from our immediate premises in once or twice a month? There is a dire need to address cleanliness issues which have wider repercussions linked to animal and human rights and health issues. For example, banning indiscriminate disposal of plastic bags can reduce environmental pollution (Section 5 of Environmental pollution Act), protect animal rights and also protect health and human rights. When cows eat plastic it also enters the food chain and reach humans too. So dealing with the plastic issue with an iron hand can have a spillover effect to make our society humane in recognizing that all jiva are forms of a single strand called life.

It is a well known fact that India has no dearth of laws but the problem lies in the stringent implementation of these laws by percolating it down to the grassroots level. Without being able succeed at that, announcing a plethora of schemes without statutory provisions may not serve to bring effective, long term changes. Actions are required and actions do speak louder than words. Let us hope for that in the coming days from this young and vibrant government.

Sudarshan R. Kottai studied his M.Sc in Applied Psychology from Pondichery University and his M.Phil Clinical Psychology from LGBRIMH, Assam. He is a recent RCI registered Clinical Psychologist .He is currently pursuing his PhD in Psychology at Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad. He is passionately involved in bringing to the fore sensitive issues related to human mental life such as sexuality. He also follows issues related to Public Administration that has direct consequences to human life in general and human mentation in particular. Solitary activities like travelling, listening to music, reading literature and spending time with animals are sources of immense contemplation for him.

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