Announcing that rural India and its villages have declared themselves open-defecation free, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Wednesday that the effort to provide toilet facilities to more than 60 crore people in 60 months had amazed the whole world.
Addressing a Swachh Bharat Diwas programme in Ahmedabad to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi said that the Mahatma was not an icon of just the Indian Independence movement but also cleanliness. The event was attended by around 20,000 village heads, including 10,000 from Gujarat.
Congratulating every countryman, especially those living in villages, and sarpanchs, who have all worked for ‘Swachata’, the Prime Minister also announced a second campaign aimed at eliminating single-use plastic by 2022.
“Just as millions of people joined the Satyagrah movement to oust the Britishers on Gandhi’s call, crores of citizens joined this movement of Swachhagrah,” he said. “Five years ago, from Red Fort, I gave a call for Swachh Bharat. Then, we only had the public’s trust and Bapu’s eternal message — the change you want to see in the world must begin with yourself.”
With this mantra, he said, people across the country, from all walks of life “picked up brooms and started working”.
“The world is amazed and giving awards for this…in 60 months, more than 60 crore people were provided with 11 crore toilets. But for me…these numbers and accolades mean little. I derive more satisfaction from the fact that Swachh Bharat is giving dignity to women and saving lives of lakhs of children,” he said.
During the event, Modi also released a Rs 150 coin and postal stamps to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma.
Citing a UNICEF estimate, Modi said that “there is a positive impact, worth Rs 20 lakh crore, on the Indian economy due to the Swachh Bharat campaign. It has created opportunities of 75 lakh jobs out of which a majority have been availed by the rural population”.
He said this had a positive impact on children’s education and their efficiency, adding, “Such a model of women’s empowerment and self-reliance was what Gandhiji wanted.”
He also urged people not to stop here, saying the next step should be to convince people to use the toilets that have been built. “The question is, if what we have achieved is enough. The answer is simple and clear. What we have achieved today, it is just a stop (and not the destination). Our journey towards a clean India is never-ending. We have built toilets, we have promoted people towards the attitude of using toilets,” he said.
Underscoring the need to make India free of single-use plastic by 2022, Modi said that the use of plastic carry bags is gradually decreasing. He said that cleanliness, environment protection and protection of all life were very close to Mahatma Gandhi’s heart. “Plastic is a big danger to the three issues. Therefore, we have to achieve the target of making the country free of single-use plastic.”
“We have to stop its use. That will benefit the environment, solve the problem of sewerage lines being blocked and protect animals and aquatic life.”