“I am pleased to participate in the Concluding Technical Plenary Session of Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention.
I understand that over the past three days, Ministers from across the World along with Sanitation experts have deliberated on various aspects of sanitation and are keen to work together to eliminate the degrading practice of open defecation from the world.
Most of you are aware that the Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi accorded highest priority to sanitation and cleanliness. He said, “Sanitation is more important than political freedom.” I feel very proud that in the past few years, India has made unprecedented progress towards achieving universal safe sanitation goals.
This dream of the ‘Father of the Nation’ could be realized through ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ - a government programme that eventually became a ‘Jan-andolan’, a people’s movement. Ever since the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi launched ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ and called upon the countrymen to come together and work to achieve ‘Clean India’ by 2019, the response from all countrymen has been tremendous.
Everybody from celebrities to the common man has selflessly participated and taken ownership of the programme, rather than treating it as a government-driven campaign. It is because of the missionary zeal with which everybody participated that the goal of a “Clean India” seems closer and real now. As Hon’ble President had said in his inaugural address – “An Open Defecation Free India is the best 150th Birthday Gift, we could give Mahatma Gandhi”.
Mahatma Gandhi had once said, “One must care about the world one will not see”. This reflected India’s deep commitment to sustainable development. Realising the importance of water and sanitation towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, a dedicated SDG on water and sanitation – the SDG 6 was set, which aimed “to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” India has taken massive strides towards achieving universal safe sanitation. I am sure this convention has identified common grounds and mechanism to collaborate on eliminating open defecation from different countries.
Friends, we are a country of 1.2 billion people, large and complex. But the Swachh Bharat Mission has been the great unifier, has made remarkable progress and has transformed the sanitation situation in all parts of the country. The number of people practicing open defecation in rural India has gone down from 550 million in 2014, to less than 100 million today. 22 states, more than 500 districts and half million of the villages have been declared ODF. All villages along the banks of the Ganga have been declared ODF. Urban India is very close to being declared ODF as well. This tremendous achievement was no coincidence. It is the result of a very intelligent and carefully planned campaign the clarion call for which was made by none other than the Prime Minister of the nation. He led from the front and his countrymen followed dutifully and wholeheartedly. There is still some distance to travel, but we are committed and India is on track to achieve open defecation free status by 2019 – the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This is going to significantly contribute to the global achievement of SDG 6.
While the success of the programme can be largely attributed to the extensive participation of people at large, the driving force has been the constant focus on ‘behaviour change.’ Swachh Bharat initiative is different from other programmes as it targeted the minds of the people, aiming to get people to start thinking about sanitation and make it a priority. It doesn’t seek to meet the needs already felt in the minds of the people. This leads to the pragmatic shift from a ‘service delivery approach’ to a ‘demand driven approach.’ Building toilets is only one and a physical aspect of this noble mission. But what is more important is a ‘cultural revolution’. This culture of clean living has been heralded through intensive behaviour change campaigns. This is of foremost importance in the strategy for achieving cleanliness, and everyone from the Prime Minister to Panchayat Leaders, Bollywood stars to sports icons, boys and girls in schools to spiritual leaders and above all the common man have participated in spreading this message. Their role in supporting Swachh Bharath Abhiyan is commendable. Change in mindset is the need of the hour.
We couldn’t have achieved sustained progress had we adopted a business as usual approach. We collectively searched for innovative solutions at all levels and implemented them with utmost zeal and enthusiasm, to bring about tangible differences to the lives of our people. Our Swachhagrahis are at the grassroots, continuing to work towards keeping sanitation at the top of people’s minds and sustaining the gains we have already made. A mention must be made of the active participation of children in the campaign. The schools of India, especially those in rural areas, acted as resource centres for the Swachh Bharat Mission. The children were taught how crucial good sanitation was to their life and future and were trained to be change agents. Their tremendous contribution to the success of this mission will forever be remembered by this great nation.
The recent recognition accorded to us by the World Health Organization (WHO), that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will be successful in averting more than three lakh deaths between October 2014 and 2019 is very encouraging and a matter of pride for the whole country.
I hope that the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention (MGISC) provided an opportunity to share experiences of Sanitation Ministers, sector specialists and public health specialists from around the world. It would be very helpful for India to learn from the success stories and best practices from the participating countries.
The world is now a closely knit and well connected cosmos. Although we inhabit different geographical locations, we are all bound by a common mission, to build a better world for our posterity. It is not an easy task and cannot be carried out by nations working alone. It will take our collective determination, our shared wisdom and pooled resources to realize this vital mission. Conventions like the MGISC which act as platforms for cooperation and mutual exchange, play a vital role in creating the much needed synergy between countries working to combat the great challenges of our times.
The convention has been addressed by many eminent speakers like Mr Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister and Mr Kevin Rudd, the Former Prime Minister of Australia. Hon’ble Ministers from Madagascar, Bangladesh, Senegal, Ghana and Indonesia have addressed the various parallel technical sessions on very relevant themes of Strategic Partnerships, Urban Sanitation and Fecal Sludge Management, Gender and Inclusive Sanitation, Sustaining ODF Status and Sanitation as everyone’s Business and Technology and Innovation. All of you have also deliberated in the ministerial sessions.
I hope your visit to Gujarat on ‘Gandhi Trail’ particularly, to Mahatma Mandir, Sabarmati Ashram to learn about the life and lesions of Mahatma Gandhi, has been inspirational and you have come back with some insights from the life of the great soul. You could also see for yourself, the impact of the programme on the ground in your visit to Punsari village. I hope, these will help in your country’s journey towards achieving and sustaining universal sanitation.
Friends, we are grateful for your participation and for your experiences shared in this convention. We will be committed to support the global community with all the knowledge, we have gained.
Let me end by reiterating our firm commitment to eradicate open defecation from our country and the world. Let us further accelerate the campaign against open defecation and make it an eminently forgettable history. Let us aim to make our country ‘Swachh’ by all means - Tan( Body), Man(Mind), Dhan(Money)