How Swachh Bharat changed India and became a global inspiration

Arun Jaitley:

When John F Kennedy made an announcement in 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, no one thought it was possible. It did happen, eight years later. When Narendra Modi announced in 2014 that India would become open defecation free by 2019, changing the behaviour of 60 crore people who then
defecated in the open, no one thought it was possible. But today, just four years later, India is on the cusp of being rid of open defecation.

Sometimes a big, hard, audacious and seemingly outlandish goal by a strong leader brings out the best in people and institutions. It puts them out of their comfort zone, makes them think big and aim big. It makes them push their boundaries of imagination by painting a picture of what success would feel like. Everyone starts delivering more than their pay grade, everyone punches above their weight, and the total becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Pot in a Spot Almost all of the readers of this piece may have never defecated in the open. It would have not crossed our minds that till 2014, half of our country suffered the indignity of open defecation, 67 years since Independence!

What most of us take for granted, a toilet, was not even a part of the consideration set of millions of people in India. Many women did want a toilet, but could not voice their need openly and strongly, and this was often sacrificed to, instead, buy a television set or a motorcycle. This was the elephant in the room that no one really addressed seriously.

Till Prime Minister Modi came along and announced a war cry against this indignity from the ramparts of the Red Fort. He still talks about toilets unabashedly at various public gatherings. This acceptance that a toilet is important and needs to be discussed, not just locally, but nationally, was a watershed moment in India’s journey to successfully ending open defecation. 

As Finance Minister, I have the unenviable task of allocating resources among various important government programmes and sectors. Unlike previous administrations, for us, the importance of sanitation in the wider development of the country was fairly intuitive. To make this ambitious goal a reality, we had to back it up with adequate resources, and it could not have been an unfunded mandate.


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