Even when I start writing this article, I am still through the pangs of the great loss of a sage and Karma Yogi from our midst on October 2014. Arulchelvar Mahalingam will still continue to guide us, if we try to listen. On October 02, 2014, the Prime Minister launched a major movement: Swaccha Bharat (SB). The actual mission or movement is much bigger than broom sticks and latrines.

Cleanliness as we understand in the modern world is a very sophisticated combination of hygiene and aesthetics. At the early time of human evolution, cleanliness had low priority. The main emphasis was survival of individual humans and propagation of the race. As human prosperity (even for a small percentage) and collective security improved, cleanliness became an integral part of life. The remains of Mohanjodaro, Harappa, Lothal etc... bear an example the progress of habitat planning, urban planning etc.

The religions and literary writings emphasized on many aspects of cleanliness. Many rituals absorbed the elements of cleanliness.

It almost became axiomatic in all human societies that the civilized person will necessarily observe high level of cleanliness. With the progress of modern science, engineering, technology and medicine, the entire concept of cleanliness (swacchatha) took new dimensions. It is very much coupled with aesthetics as well. That is the reason why the Prime Minister while listing the importance of Swaccha Bhaarat (SB), points out that it is an essential condition to attract more tourists. Every Indian is aware of the linkage between cleanliness and health, though the depth of their scientific understating about cleanliness may vary.

Equally well understood is the linkage of water with purity: 'Aapa Punanthu Prithvim' says Vedas; (water purifies the earth). That is the reason that most of the Indians will at least symbolically clean the hands with water before eating. People enter many places of worship after symbolically cleaning their legs and hands.

But would these symbolisms suffice? Most of the water bodies (ponds, lakes, etc...) in and around temples are dirty. The Ganga is highly polluted. Worst still is that many Indians have to live close to their own excreta, urine and feces and other wastes which they generate. Many towns and cities are littered, in addition to garbage, by animal excreta of cattle and dogs.


Since the Prime Minister, with ability to give attention to details in addition to giving a Vision (and catchy slogans), is directly involved in this SB Movement (SBM), there is a lot of hope that we will not get into the usual activist and bureaucratic traps of one or two point projects, quantitative targets, inadequate funds, subsidies and above all forgetting the main elements of the complex processes of SBM and their linkages.

This article is meant to point out a few of these linkages,, so that in the actual execution of SBM, Indians derive benefit: better health for themselves and others; better aesthetics around their habitat, work places and public places they share; an excellent attraction for outsiders who come to India to do business or enjoy its beauty or research on the heritage of a great civilization.

And above all we will, through proper execution of SBM, leave for the future Indians (yet to be born and those infants who are too young now to understand), a great India which is clean and beautiful which was dirty and filthy only till a recent past ;) an India which has forgotten those putrid conditions of existence.

In order to achieve this state for India and Indians, we should avoid many pitfalls and land mines which already exist!


In a recent article by Santhosh Mhalhotra (6-10-2014 Times of India) about Swaccha Bhaarat, a number of central Government programmes are listed. The Central Rural Sanitation Programme (1986-99), Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC). 1999-2012, and the ongoing Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) 2012-22. The author states that all have failed. TSC was started by the earlier NDA government to complete it by target year 2012 to achieve Nirmal Bharat! The author says that instead with a population increase and with toilet coverage increasing at only 1% point per year, there ware 8 million more households defecating in the open in 2011 than in 2001 (census data). The author further continues "share of rural households with toilets increased from 21% to 31% between the two censuses. At this rate of improvement, it will take nearly 70 more years before India becomes OD free" (OD-Open Defecation).

The way many such socio-economic programmes are designed ( I am familiar with these since late 1980’s) the bureaucracy reduces a complex problem into a set of targets to be completed by the State governments and release grants according to a pre-set (so called well coordinated with state level bureaucracies) project format. Yearly completion reports and fund utilization certificates are received and filed. There may be some "monitoring committee" reports with little value. Therefore on the whole in many cases the government auditors cannot find many faults, except for some nit-picking on issue of tenders; project escalation etc...

One well respected top bureaucrat had told me in the late 1990’s that many of these programmes are gurgitated and re-gurgitated In addition to the above referred central programmes, there may be many state government level programmes with fund released to the panchayats and municipalities. Again all these unfinished projects may be brought up again and States may ask that the SBM funds may be given to these "on-going" programmes. There may be compulsions of federal set up (and politics) to accept these!

So far we have discussed about programmes and funding of them under various names for the past three decades. If through this bureaucratic maze, political apathy, inefficient government machinery and above all the omnipresent "leakages of funds" at various levels; some latrines are built up a big question is: are they serving people? (be it in their homes or built in public places like slums). Santosh Melhotra states in his article that "research evidence is that people defecate in the open because they do not see a reason to change their centuries-old behaviour". He also estimates that "perhaps four-fifths of the expenditure was creamed off in corruption and wasted. Disbursement was taken as a proxy for construction".

I have worked for a DST project called "Good Morning Bombay" by us, in 1989. The non-utilisation of toilets built by government or subsidized by government is not just because centuries old-behaviour alone. There are other pressing present day realities.

During my own life time from mid 1940’s I had used the common latrines in Bombay Chawls (also later during 1957-1964). For about 4 years, did OD in the Tamil Nadu village (1949-1953) and used dry latrine in Palayamkottai inside the house (1953-1957). Only after 1964, had a proper modern toilet for individual house usage!

OD as I did in the village open fields, was better than the dry latrine (cleaned once-a-day in the morning by a woman worker). The chawl like sharing a modern latrine was most atrocious, especially because of severe water shortage; technically they were Indian style and had a septic tank. A few lucky one’s (we all use to compete) who can enter immediately after the first cleaning in the morning may have a clean latrine to defecate. Then due to water-shortage, it was a hell-hole. I used to get infected very often with a type of eczema in the thighs which I never had in OD days!

I have described my experience in some detail because I find that the question of defecation is often reduced to a toilet block. Does it have water in abundance to clean not just once a day, but after every use? Obviously it need not be water that has potable quality! Our drinking water mission is still to achieve the results of giving clean drinking water to all Indians! Even most of the regular municipal water supplies are so poor that the middle class, upper middle class and of course the rich and powerful use only bottled water even in five star hotels!


If latrines have to attract people to use them, then they should have:

  • Good water supply to clean it after each use (and even before use if it is going to be a public latrine not limited to a family)
  • Good ambience-with light and with no foul smells.
  • A good (not choking) outlet for the excreta and water, through a large enough septic tank or through connection to sewage lines.
  • Regular maintenance especially if it is a public toilet, with disinfectants poured often for cleaning.
  • Also cockroaches should be killed as often as possible. Many children and even elders may get scared if they are cock-roach infested. Many latrines in chawls of Bombay (now Mumbai) were full of cockroaches.
  • Annual removal of the muck from the septic or more often as needed.

I have not suggested the use of human excreta for biogas generation, though technically feasible, as it will be resisted. Let us not load the project with many such goals.

Instead of counting numbers, in terms of disbursal of subsidies (which often are the sources of corruption) let the SBM concentrate on actual execution of Operational Latrines on the lines suggested above (taking care of all the linkages). Let it start at the village level, with proper construction of sewage lines and septic tanks at homes and / or public places as the villagers choose.

Let the corporate CSR funds be channelised for this; not for Release and Forget but for Execution, Transfer and regular Monitoring. Accounting for these may be difficult; some may over inflate the costs. Cannot Govt fix a comfortable figure so that there is no need to cheat? Anything above that will not be paid. Any thing under that is okay - let us leave it to them to enjoy!

There can be independent monitoring by local colleges. Let them send pictures and data. There could be some boys and girls who may try using this mode to create scare some persons, or use it for blackmail! Let the data therefore not be used by tax authorities to account for CSR expenditure. Then in a short period things will stabilise. Those who are bad in implementation can be caught by others, as such data is available. Those who do well need not be scared! Truth will succeed if approval mechanisms, tax evaluations etc... are not tied up to the monitoring system.


It has to have all the above linkages. But space available for latrines will be small, as land is prohibitively costly in urban areas. The Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, under the guidance of the then Secretary Dr. Vasant Gowariker had executed a Latrine building project (pre-fab using ferro cement, with blocks of 15 or 30 each). It worked well during 1990-1992 in most of the 30 odd locations. It was on Build (at Government cost) and Transfer basis. Pay for use except women and children. The local communities operated them; there were some interesting sociological problems due to local mischief makers at some locations. The project was to be expanded by a public Trust, with top industrialists on Board. But alas! The 1993 blasts in Bombay disrupted any further work.

But similar work might have been done elsewhere. The idea is to use minimum of space, but taking care of all other items including aesthetics.


Other items, to name a few ones, which destroy cleanliness in local areas are:

  • Solid waste (Garbage disposal)
  • Animal excreta
  • Pollution of water bodies (not just rivers but ponds, lakes etc... in villages and towns)
  • Waste water disposal
  • Agricultural wastes in rural areas.
  • Animal wastes in butcheries

About Garbage in urban areas, we had already devoted a full article (Article 25) in this series. It appears as the chapter 24 in the book Mission 21st Century (Living with Nature in the Modern World) published by Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., (2014) as a collection of these articles. Another article was regarding Plastics (Article 31) which gives statistics of urban garbage all over India, amount of plastics etc...

We won’t repeat them here. Urban Garbage Waste can be converted to energy (solid fuel like coal, or as electricity). There are working plants in India. If there is a market, let them be converted to compost also. But the size of urban garbage is large and is increasing; to convert it into electricity is better.

We should take care to ensure that the projects do not get stymied by fads and fashions of single point activists such as:

  • Segregate the garbage (We had argued how it is unrealistic for most of Indian households.
  • Ban plastics bags! (We have argued with data against it!)
  • Ban hawkers! (Let us not destroy livelihoods!)
  • Ban rag picking! etc... (Same as above)

Let us take care not to disturb the livelihood of poor Indians until we find an alternate income generation jobs for them. Many of them can be effectively used in Waste Collection, Disposal and Reuse, if systems are developed. It can be a part of SBM mission, if industries are incentivised.

I found that after participating in SBM launch, many well meaning persons have collected garbage and dry leaves in their local areas (through sweeping) and burn them locally. In Bengaluru as I had earlier written in my article quoted above, is indeed having such a system of 'decentralized incineration' on roads, empty sites etc... It is not good in the long run, though for a quick look, things may look clean. It increases global warming and more importantly pollutes the local air. Some dump them quietly in a nearby water body; it adds to ground pollution, and loss of water.

Hence all urban areas even Tier III towns and large villages, have to adopt proper Solid Waste Usage Plants (SWUP). As India grows and gets prosperous, the garbage will grow. Look at the scheme to sell good packed food in railways. It is a great step for health. What happens to the packing which goes as garbage? Will they be strewn all across rail tracks? Better way is to collect them and dispose them in a number of railway junctions to be taken for solid waste usage plants. Big bus stations have to install good garbage collection facilities (never mind segregation). Standardized containers will help transport to SWUP.

Agricultural Wastes in Rural Areas are much bigger problems as farmers produce more. Most of the straw is burnt; instead these can be used to produce electricity or get bio oil. I learnt that IIT Ropar (Punjab) is working on a project with University of Austin. Hope they do it fast and implement all over Punjab, Haryana and western UP. (Others will follow).

Animal excreta in towns, cities and metros: These are mostly due to cattle and free moving cows, on roads. For a Swaccha Bhaarat, we cannot allow this to happen. Such stray cattle may be confined to a separate place; if there are owners, they may be fined for letting them free.

On the upper end of society, many Indian who walk with their pet dogs in parks or lay outs let them 'pooh' on the public places. I have seen it in the Jawaharlal Nehru Park in Delhi; the foreigners who come with their dogs keep plastic bags to collect the pooh and carry with them! But Indians let them free on lawns, foot paths etc... one to shame them and may be fine them. Should not SBM slogan reach such elite and middle class pet owners? As India develops more Indian households have started having pet dogs using the Western practices; but let them also imbibe in them the civic sense of the Westerners!


We had once done a study in TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) about such animal wastes around late 1990’s. The business from proper use of them can be around Rs. 3000 cures annually (now much more!); we were to work with Khadi Gramodyog! But the Chairman changed; then project got lost! Even now it is an area for SBM. It will improve health of Indias as well, as more people are going for non-vegetarian food as they get better incomes. The wastes other than mere leather and meat, can give good earning incomes too!


Now we are left with two major items concerning water. In villages large amount of water is wasted in fields. They flow into water bodies and pollute them. Most village ponds and lakes (including temple lakes) have unacceptable levels of BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand). Temple ponds get spoiled because most of the milk etc... used for abhisekham goes into the ponds. People also feed fishes with prasaadam.

As we make more latrines in rural households the excreta and urine, and bathed water will find their way to the local ponds and lakes. If water disposal systems are not planned well, people will direct latrine outputs to a system which will finally go to a lake.

At the initiative of the then Chief Minister of Punjab in 2000-2001, we had done extensive preliminary work on cleaning of the lakes in Punjab; most of them were in bad shape. We were to start the work on a Waste Water Recycling Plant on a land donated by the villagers. Elections were declared; no new work! Priorities changed; so it goes! This is the situation about most lakes and ponds in India. They are the life-line-of Swaccha Bhaarat. There can be a waste water recycling plant for all villages in India. If necessary, they could be subsidized!

Urban area situation is still terrible. We use ground water 365x24 hours and throw them in sewage. Some lucky ones get river water and do the same. Rain Water Harvesting can only work for a few days or weeks during monsoon months. So Waste Water Recycling Plants have to be there in many places in a town or city. About 2 million litres per day plant can be cost effective. Several such plants can be located in different places in a city. Some municipal corporations in India (Hyderabad, Bangalore are among the forerunners) have done it. But maintenance is the weak point of Indian psyche.

SBM should have Waste Water recycling and Reuse as the Prime Slogan.

"Aaapa Punantu Prithivim" - says Veda -, "Water purifies the Earth". If we purify used water, we purify the Earth as we prevent it from getting dirty through dirty sewage etc... We save the ground water also, from being drawn out Ganga, Yamuna, and all the rivers will be free of dirt if the recycled water flows back into them! All our hotels, apartment complexes, industries, the Lutyen Delhi - all should pay for recycling of water.

Water is the Mother of Swaccha Bhaarat Movement. Also people can bath well including many migrant workers, who do not have regular homes.

Let us achieve all round cleanliness in India: it is achievable in a decade, if we approach the issues holistically seeing the linkages and avoiding "attractive booby traps of files and single point slogans".

It is a great movement, started on Oct. 02, in the memory of Bapu! Let us achieve it sooner than later. Kaal karey so aaj kar.

Y S Rajan.