SHAFAQNA – Narendra Modi has told millions of civil servants to go to work on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday tomorrow — a national holiday — to scrub their offices and workplace toilets as part of a campaign to clean up India.
The prime minister, dismayed by the dismal sanitation and overflowing rubbish dumps plaguing Indian cities, hopes to honour the country’s greatest independence leader by solving the problem before the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth on October 2, 2019.
“Change has to come from the top,” said Robinder Sachdev, who leads a campaign called Come Clean India. “For too long we have been numb to this problem, but India is filthy and our children are dying. If the country is not clean, do we really have self respect?”
Mr Modi has urged all of India’s 6.4 million civil servants, as well as elected MPs and assembly members, to participate in the nationwide campaign. He himself will take to the streets of Delhi tomorrow with a broom.
The clean-up campaign, besides targeting streets and offices, also aims to construct 110 million toilets within five years and change deep-rooted attitudes towards hygiene and sanitation. Nearly 800 million Indians — 64 per cent of the 1.2 billion population — lack basic sanitation, and more people own a mobile phone than have access to a toilet at home.
In cities such as Mumbai, piles of rotting rubbish festering in the streets are an everyday sight, and the untreated waste of millions of people is flushed directly into the sea.
About 600 million Indians still practise open defecation; a tradition which spreads diseases, including cholera and E.coli, and contaminates water sources, and which costs the country as much as £30 billion a year. About 400 children die every day from diarrhoea.
Poor sanitation is also a reason why 43 per cent of Indian children aged under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, which affects their physical and mental development.
India’s rubbish problem is growing fast as the economy expands, propelling demand for packaged consumer goods. Indians generate 55 million tons of solid waste a year, with that figure set to increase to 240 million tons by 2047.
Mahatma Gandhi urged his followers to clean out toilets to learn humility and to express their solidarity with the “untouchables” who traditionally undertake the lowly task of manual scavenging.