Book review: From PM’s Swachh Bharat Mission to meta-critique of development issues

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | M.R. VENKATESH
Published May 14, 2018, 6:07 am IST
Updated May 14, 2018, 6:07 am IST
The PM’s ‘Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), launched by Mr. Modi on October 2, 2014, for creating a ‘Clean India’, is seen as the new anchor.
SURVIVE OR SINK - An Action Agenda for Sanitation, Water, Pollution and Green Finance by Naina Lal Kidwai  Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd., Rs 495.
 SURVIVE OR SINK - An Action Agenda for Sanitation, Water, Pollution and Green Finance by Naina Lal Kidwai Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd., Rs 495.

Chennai: This book is not a twitter poll on the performance of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government close to a pre-election year.

The PM’s ‘Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), launched by Mr. Modi on October 2, 2014, for creating a ‘Clean India’, is seen as the new anchor. Yet, it is to emphasise the centrality of sanitation, water and pollution issues to the larger development goals in the backdrop of global warming and climate change, author Ms. Naina Lal Kidwai in this thought-provoking compendium has drawn a do-or-die big picture.

 

‘Swachh’ has a wider political connotation, which Prime Minister Modi has sought to make a virtue of in recent years. But this work by Ms. Kidwai, an MBA from Harvard Business School and who has served in top positions in several eminent national and international bodies and corporate organisations and first woman President of FICCI in 2013, has lucidly dwelt on key related issues like women’s empowerment, green finance, NGOs and citizens’ responsibilities in this task.

It is no talking down from a pulpit. As the sub-title indicates, the author’s text lives up to its ostensive marker of an ‘Action Agenda’, despite being repetitive in parts, vis-à-vis recalling key facts and figures, perhaps shaped by her vast experience that public memory is proverbially short. Nonetheless, the author has raised some hard questions for SBM bureaucrats too. Interestingly, the role of faith and faith-based organisations, besides of local community leaders, without being theological, in bringing about attitudinal change in issues of sanitation, clean water and its conservation, energy, health and so on, is also stressed.

Governments at provincial and central levels even prior to 1947, have been stressing on basic sanitation, safe water, clean neighbourhoods and ensuring personal cleanliness as sin-qua-non for preventing communicable diseases and keeping the population active and healthy- that history goes back to the benevolent late Lord Ripon hailed as the Father of the Local Self-Government Movement in India. Nonetheless, the author alludes to how for the first time, at the top-most PMO’s level in New Delhi, such a huge nationwide thrust is given to the ‘Swachh’ drive as a “flagship” programme of the Narendra Modi regime.

Having acknowledged that, the author points out: “The social benefit of sanitation as per the World Bank is US $53 billion. The SBM is critical for India to reap the demographic dividend that economists talk about - a young and healthy India benefitting from the low dependency ratios many countries would love to have.”

The ‘Swachh’ programme has spawned a range of initiatives - the author and her husband were themselves instrumental in starting the India Sanitation Coalition (ISC), to bring various players including NGOs and corporates to one platform for collaborative action in a mission mode. It also gave rise to new derivative concepts and roles too. For example, the author points out, how corporate houses are volunteering programmes like ‘Swachhata Doots’, “where factory employees (with some training and a mobile app) are effecting behaviour change in communities around the factory.” Urban sanitation will be as important as rural sanitation, as even future sustainable growth models pin their hopes on cities.

The author also seeks to drive home how sanitation in rural India “has been easier to tackle” with panchayats and district administrations taking the lead. Ms. Kidwai hails the present “dynamic secretary” of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), Parmeswran Iyer, for having “correctly recognised the ‘twin pit toilet’ as the ‘gold standard’, as it is cost-effective and not dependent on water flushing mechanisms. “However, innovations are continuously required to improve design, adapting these to different locations. The supply chain also needs to be strengthened to reach all locations,” she says, adding, “The issue of safe and sustainable sanitation is both a health and development imperative.”

But is Swachh all about only building individual toilets even in remote hamlets and declaring all districts in the country as open defecation free (ODF) ? These quantitative parameters do matter, but the author clearly points out that testing the efficacy of SBM programme as a whole has to necessarily go beyond them.

Besides addressing sanitation and hygiene needs of women, children, adolescent girls, people with disabilities and so on, Ms. Kidwai is categorical that SBM objectives will have to be aligned with larger and wider initiatives, particularly in the urban and semi-urban/semi-rural contexts, with safe solid waste collection and disposal, fecal sludge management (FSM) and need for a series of fecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs).

“The World Bank estimates that 6.40 per cent of India’s GDP is lost due to adverse economic impacts and costs of inadequate sanitation,” the author writes. “Today, the nation is at a critical junction in the SBM programme. The government, avid for infrastructure, announced the decision to build 5.20 million toilets by September 2016, or one every second. However, the danger is that the renewed focus on sanitation will also be driven purely by numbers.”

“To move ahead, there is an urgent need to build even greater momentum around a broad understanding of what will make India truly Swachh,” says Ms. Kidwai, adding, the German model in this context, to achieve “sustainable sanitation by using forward planning” is critical to address the “entire value chain of ‘Build, Use, Maintain and Treat (BUMT)’. Germany has been one of the largest international donors in this sector. India should look at the German experience, which includes waste water treatment, operation and maintenance (O&M) issues, and sludge treatment projects, even while building toilets, the author argues.

To one, this proposition of an integrated or holistic approach to Swachh appears to be the bedrock on which Ms. Kidwai has launched what may be termed a meta-critique of other development issues. They include the exploding world of renewable energy sources, particularly solar, with India already playing a leading role on the world stage in climate change debates and commitments given in the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions, what India and China can jointly do towards low carbon growth, the role of NGOs, PSUs and corporates in coming together to implement solutions and how to finance this new green economy. It is about the new economy that hinges on renewables, energy efficiency, waste management, smart infrastructure that are least dependent on fossil fuels, safety of micro-finance and so on. These concerns are also about a futuristic world and lifestyles, if humanity as a whole is to survive.





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