Shramdaan to Swachh Bharat

Karanvir Gupta
Do you remember those days when there would be a dedicated day for Shramdaan in schools and colleges. It emphasised the spirit of clean environment and healthy surroundings. All the students would make teams, take up a designated area in the school/college and would ensure that it is the cleanest area in the vicinity. It feels amazing that how as a kid/student – we are taught this spirit of healthy competition where we compete and collaborate at the same time for the larger good. I wonder what changes as we grow up! Does growing up takes away all the sensibilities while keeping us busy in our own lives? I have always failed to understand. Or is it that we completely lose trust in the effort and its fruits especially since it caters to the larger society rather than our self-interests?
Many of us would be wondering why this Swachh Bharat Mission has gained so much momentum. Or is it a publicity stunt to digress from the real issues of finance, economy and agriculture. Or maybe it is Mr. PM’s pet peeve! There can be numerous reasons, ulterior motives and what not if you come to think of it. But sometimes we should cut this wild goose chase and see things at face value. Does this benefit us? Yes! Will it benefit our today? Yes! Will it be helpful in securing healthy living conditions for us and people around? Yes! If there are so many “yes” to it, I do believe there should be no “if and but” when it comes to putting our bit into it.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to decode the real meaning of Swachh Bharat. Whenever we get to think of a Clean India and Green India – a few things pop up our mind. Cleaner roads, fully functional drainage and sewage system and a large forest cover or reserved area for flora and fauna. These are easy escapades for people like you and me because these activities would need government’s intervention and involvement and leeway us to live life, the way we want while still showing our concern for it. While we can happily share the whatsapp forwards on the importance of clean drinking water, debate on celebs with a broom found cleaning a particular are, etc. Hashtags (#) have become our reality and the degree to which we are affected by a cause that really concerns us.
Unfortunately, action cannot replace words. Like me writing here can only stir up thoughts in your minds but it cannot really compensate for the ground action which needs you and me both. And trust me, it is not tough – it just needs a bit of consciousness in our lifestyle and habits to make the change happen.
Let me put in front of you a day from the life of an urban individual. I get up and first put the lights of my room. I walk into the lobby and turn on the lights and fans there. If you are in a hot, arid or humid region – there goes the AC 24×7. I go to the loo freshen up and flush one tank of water. While you look at yourself in the mirror while brushing your teeth, the water from the tap flows like a stream forever. You get ready, have your breakfast while so many utensils get washed in the kitchen (the water along with leftovers are sunk down the pipe). While in metros, there are separate bins for wet and dry waste; in the rest of the cities all kinds of waste find way into the same bin. I am not sure who, where and when will have the technology and labor to get this junk separated. This process keeps happening throughout the day. In our commutes to our workplaces be it schools, hospitals,Government offices, SEZ – there is rampant waste being generated because we are not even answerable for it. This goes in the balance sheet of the public – lest we forget we all together make the public. Unfortunately this is an unavoidable waste that is generated as a part of the basic day-to-day activities. Then there comes the consumerist waste – generated out of our desire to have more, consume more and own more!
We are caught unaware in the midst of highly consumerist mindset. This has resulted in us contributing tons and tons of waste to the environment. Have you ever thought what happens to the old clothes you throw? Each festival and each autumn/summer sale – we queue up to buy new clothes, trends and fashion but where do the old ones go? Each new pair of shoes bought is a replacement for an old one? Where did you throw it? A new vs old appliance, the frequency at which we buy new phones – that is the frequency at which we disown our old ones – what happens to those electrical and electronic appliances? Come to think of bigger things – replacing cars, buying new LEDs, and home theatres and things which we can’t put price to – toys for our children, things of daily utility, etc. And the list will go on! Disposal of waste has become a big challenge in the entire scheme of Swachh Bharat – the remedy for which lies in your and my hands.
I have always emphasised on the importance of 3 things: a) Judicious use of water in our day to day activities and containing the flow of water b) Putting off the electrical appliances, units, electricity when not in use c) keeping our homes and surroundings clean. If we all can promise this, we will be doing justice to ourselves and coming generations. There is one more thing that we need to emphasise on – that is minimize the waste being generated per household. That would be true success of all our efforts as a country towards Swachh Bharat, Swastha Bharat. Only then, our effort towards building 4003 Open Defecation Free cities would make sense. The fact that 58.4lac individual toilets have been constructed, 6lac ODF declared villages, declaration of single use plastic free India means nothing if we are not conscious of what role we got to play in this movement! That finding followed by action – that would be our tribute to 150 years of Gandhi Jayanti, our promise to our nation and a hope for our future generations! Hoga har kadam swachhta ki aur, jab swachhta ke anukul hogi har soch!
(The writer is an IIM Shillong Alumnus and Mentor of Change with Niti Aayog)