A presentation by the government to mark the third anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) places the campaign in the same league as the mission to the moon. Trying to change the habits of 125-crore Indians in five years is as audacious an endeavour — perhaps even more — as the then American President John Kennedy’s target of sending a man to the moon in 10 years in the early ‘60s, the presentation hints. But desperation — not audacity — seems to be behind some of the drives to meet the October 2 deadline for ending open defecation in urban areas. The Ranchi Municipal Commission’s recent moves to humiliate people found defecating in the open is one such instance. On Sunday, as reported by this newspaper, at least 10 people in Ranchi who were caught defecating in the open were made to hand over their lungis to enforcement teams of the municipality.
While inaugurating the SBM three years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took care to link the scheme with human dignity. He had talked about women, the poor, emphasised the links of Swachh Bharat with public health and stressed that the mission should become a movement. The PM has reiterated this credo several times — including in the presentation to mark the three years of the mission. But such lofty principles have, at times, been lost on officials executing the project. Under pressure to meet SBM targets, they have failed to provide the human touch that is necessary in any endeavour to induce behavioural change. The Ranchi Municipal Commissioner, Shantanu Agrahari, for example, told this newspaper: “Public ostracism is often a good deterrence. The results show that these initiatives are helping to check the number of those who defecate in the open.”
On paper, the SBM is premised on the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach which hinges on creating information networks to bring about behaviour change. The approach recognises that demand for toilets be generated from the bottom up, and that change be driven and sustained by the community itself once it has been “triggered”. The SBM’s guidelines also state that coercion is against the mission’s spirit. However, the execution at places like Ranchi have not done justice to these principles. Threatening people may ensure their participation in the Mission in the short term and even compliance with the campaign’s immediate targets. But such means are unlikely to induce sustainable behavioural change.