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4 years of Swachh Bharat: WHO lauds Narendra Modi government, but study warns against mismanagement of waste

Marking the celebrations of Gandhi Jayanti — the day four years ago that India's Swachh Bharat Mission was launched, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that even after 70 years of Independence, Gandhi's dream of a clean India remained unfulfilled and claimed that his government had covered significant ground but needed to do more.

The government held a four-day-long conclave on cleanliness in New Delhi that ends on Tuesday.

Speaking at the event, Modi said people can follow Gandhi's vision by doing simple things such as ensuring zero waste of food to imbibing values of non-violence and togetherness.

 4 years of Swachh Bharat: WHO lauds Narendra Modi government, but study warns against mismanagement of waste

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of his 114th birth anniversary, at Central Hall of Parliament in New Delhi. PTI

"Let us think about how our actions can contribute to a cleaner and greener environment for the future generations. Almost eight decades ago, when the threats of pollution were not as much, Gandhiji took to cycling," Modi recalled to drive home his point.

Over the past four years, 130 crore Indians have paid tributes to Gandhi in the form of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Completing four years, it has emerged as a vibrant mass movement with commendable outcomes. Over 85 million households now have access to toilets for the first time, he said.

Meanwhile, the government said that India managed to make 521 districts open defecation free, an achievement for which the World Health Organisation lauded India's efforts.

The international agency said that India has elevated the challenge of ending open defecation to the highest level.

Launching the first global guidelines on sanitation and health on Monday, the WHO said the world will not reach the goal of universal sanitation coverage — where every person in the world has access to toilets that safely contain excreta — by 2030 unless countries make comprehensive policy shifts and invest more funds.

Under Modi's leadership, the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Programme) is coordinating action across many sectors to ensure basic sanitation rapidly reaches and improves the lives of millions, the WHO said in a statement.

As per the government, India will lay claim to being an ODF nation by February 2019. Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, 76 per cent of India's villages have been declared ODF. Around 83.8 million toilets have been built.

That said, according to a new analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment also warned about proper waste management practices to be adopted in line with the push for building toilets.

The study warned that building toilets is only the first — and perhaps the easiest — step towards attaining a "clean India" status.

"It cannot be seen as the ultimate yardstick of success. What happens to the immense amounts of solid and liquid waste that these millions of new toilets would generate? If human excreta is not handled carefully — safely disposed of or reused — it will add to our health burden and negate all the work done to build the toilets," CSE Director General Sunita Narain said in a statement.

The CSE analysis along with Down To Earth magazine gives a taste of exactly how monumental the problem would be — 1,00,000 tonne of excreta every day produced by 720 million people using 144 million household toilets — just to give a sense of scale, more than 5,200 trucks would be needed every day to transport this amount of excreta.

The CSE has based this estimate on the standard calculation that on an average, an individual produces 128 gram of excreta every day.

CSE's programme manager with rural water-waste management Sushmita Sengupta said: "This could turn out to be a far bigger problem than that of open defecation.

"If not managed properly, the mind-boggling amounts of waste that these toilets will spew forth close to people's homes can severely contaminate the land and water sources."

What compounds the problem is the manner in which the entire process of making villages ODF has been carried out.

The analysis notes major gaps in the process.

To declare India's villages ODF, the Census 2011 involved 2.7 million officials, ostensibly working in collaboration with 3.6 million village residents.

However, the rush to achieve targets has led to false claims. The analysis quotes the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on Gujarat and Uttarakhand, that has exposed cases of fudging of data.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Oct 02, 2018 14:56:57 IST