For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!!

From the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the kickoff of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in India on the 15th August this year, India has been on a cleaning overdrive. Routinely we have been seeing ministers, netas wielding the broom and doing a cleaning act. It culminated in the actual launch of this new social awakening campaign by the PM on the 2nd Oct where he himself did a bit of sweeping. Its’ been a while since India actually saw the top leader championing a social campaign which Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Shashi Tharoor in their articles refer to as the “Bully pulpit” a phrase meaning to drive change top down. Close on the heels of the PM, we saw many ministers, MPs, MLAs, officialdom, volunteers from NGOs, celebrities and general public doing their bit of Shramdhan on the 2nd Oct in cleaning in different parts of the country. So far so good.


But the moot question is does a country become clean by cleaning alone?

Among the many countries I’ve visited if I have to pick up one country which stood out for its cleanliness it will obviously be Japan. Many who have been to Japan agree to this. Is Japan spic’n span because they have more people to clean and for longer? Or do they put technology to use to ensure cleanliness? May be they do. But the fact is Japanese are extremely particular about cleanliness not just within their homes but in public spaces as well. So what they do is not just cleaning but not creating many opportunities for cleaning. They just don’t litter.  The cleaning up of the football stadium during the FIFA World cup by Japanese fans that too after their team’s exit from the World cup is now part of WhatsApp “forward folklore”. I’m sure most of the litter must have been generated by the Columbian fans!!! From having a small personal ashtray in their pockets to having 4 or 5 waste bins in every nook and corner to separate wastes, cleanliness is one of their two biopolymer strands in their DNA!!!

Contrast that to we Indians, forget DNA, cleanliness need to be searched in our hair strands!!!

I was walking down the stairs after leaving my daughter in a class yesterday. This was when the country was still reeling under the Swachh Bharat mania. A young man must be in his 30’s was standing on the edge of the stairs talking on his mobile phone. As I turned to exit the building, he used all his energy to spit the red juice of the paan he was chewing, on the floor.  I stopped and gave a long stare at him and asked him “Swachh Bharat”??? He started smiling and I felt like slapping him then and there. Now the red remnants of the “paan art” will be cleaned by someone someday. But the stains will remain to remind the world of our dirty etiquette.

For a while, I was of the view that public etiquette is an education thing. After seeing the walls and corners splashed in red in Mumbai, I have concluded that it is not. Day in day out in Mumbai (and indeed in many parts of our country) gentlemen “paint the city red” by spitting after chewing paan in public spaces and wherever they are.  In most walls, the warning sign goading people not to spit is submerged in paan stains.

For us Indians, by and large cleanliness is within the four walls of our homes. Beyond that is not our concern. This is the core issue and the reason behind the pathetic state of our public places.

If Ganga is dirty, it is not for want of cleaning. In the past Governments sanctioned crores of rupees on Ganga cleaning project and I am sure a fraction of it indeed would have been spent on cleaning. But if we don’t stop littering, then this cleaning is of no use. Like Shashi Tharoor in his article says, in the past also they have been different campaigns for a “Clean India” though not necessarily as visible and of this scale as Narendra Modi’s. They have not yielded results for the same reason that people don’t feel the need of a clean surrounding beyond their four private walls whether they are bus stands, temples, railway stations, airports, parks, gardens, schools, hospitals,… ,…

To be realistic, we cannot expect the PM to keep cleaning his surroundings in public every day in public view. And similarly the ministers, babus, NGO workers,.. . Even I heard that once the programme was over in Delhi, it left behind a trail of of water bottles,.. When the optics fade out in a few days, it will be back to the municipality workers to pick up the thread and litter literally.

So are we to stay condemned with a dirty India? Certainly not. From that point of view, the PM’s initiative is extremely laudable in creating awareness about cleanliness. This awareness needs to be transformed into an awakening by us citizens by educating our children right from the young age about the need to have clean surroundings wherever they are. I don’t have much hope on the current grown up generation to give up their few minutes of self-pleasure and stop chewing paan and spitting from tomorrow. That will continue. And for that may be the PM’s push to all to spend few hours in cleaning every year may help.

But, what will make India a Swachh Bharat though not in 5/10 years but may be in 20/25 years is when attitudinal shift happens in generations. For that we have to follow as per me the most vital part of the pledge which is “I will neither litter or let others litter” and drill this in our children.

Swachh Bharat is not about cleaning but a clarion call to cease the need for cleaning!!!

After thought: If Swachh Bharat Mission leads up to this type of cleaning no complaints though 🙂 🙂 🙂


Cartoon courtesy : Satish Acharya

Do read my another post on Swachh Bharat – Towards Swaasth and Swachh Bharat!!!

0 thoughts on “For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!!”

  1. I agree with the sentiments, Anand. Yesterday (4-Oct) I was in one of South Bengaluru’s main shopping roads. One day after Ayudha Pooja, the garbage on the road was disheartening to see. Somewhere, we need to emphasize civic sense in our education system.

  2. Superb article Anand. The pan spitting incident must have frustrated you no end. Wonder if the 30 year old also understands the cancer related risks of pan. Sometimes “lathi” is a good solution..Although we need awareness at the grass root level..not just on ndtv…

  3. Hi Anand, Good thoughts, so much of truth. Liked the example of Japan and the Japanese PEOPLE. It all boils down to people isn’t it! Civic sense! You have rightly pointed out that the generation next may be able to implement “no littering” in their habits and to make them believe in this habit is our responsibility … “Practice what you preach”.

  4. Well written. I find celebrities wielding the broom so bloody obnoxious. What happened to all those contractors and cleaning staff that are PAID to clean? And the point is – why LITTER in the first place?

  5. I agree with you Mr.Anand sir,
    yaa we don,t need cleaning but we need to clean our mindset such that the “pan inciden”t or such thing nevrr happen again….
    love ur post….

  6. We used to be a clean people, according to historical documentation by travellers. I think, today, it is the enormous population that is responsible for lack of civic sense as well as civic amenities, lack of space, lack of aesthetics, that all builds up to lack of hygiene, as well. Paan spit is the ubiquitious Indian presence, beginning inside the elevators of high-rise apartments and spreading its stain everywhere.

  7. sir,
    include ur facebook adress or gmail address such that your reader can contact you……..connect with you..

    i want to connect with you….

    i have include my facebook and gmail address

  8. I realized how critical is the cleanliness of public places when my daughter was down with Dengue. In spite of spike & spin home with absolutely mosquito free environment, she got mosquito bit, at some public place. Doctors told me there was no medicine which could cure the disease. Everyday platelets were reducing for 3 days & we were helplessly praying Ganpatibapa. I realized ‘swachata abhiyan’ is my business too. It is collective responsibility even for personal benefit. Anand, well written article on apt subject, in lucid language. well done

  9. KNK Murthy
    My dear Anand,

    Being a Safety Professional in industrial sector all through my career spanning forty years, there is an obsession within me on any campaign aimed at Swachhata ( Good Housekeeping). As you rightly mentioned such initiatives are more on promoting a cleanliness drive once the premises get messed with filth and does not go further by way of changing the behavioural aspects of those made the area dirty. There used to be special “one time financial concurrence” for the clean up project and unfortunately there used to be “N” number of “One time approval”. People are not being questioned how so much waste is produced and no costing is done on the losses incurred on productivity due to the generation of those wastes. There used to be “House Keeping Contests and Incentive schemes” and concerned departments used to get additional/ special budget to get cleaning done through outsourced agencies and claim contest prizes for themselves!!

    Regarding spitting habit I am reminded of an unforgettable dialogue in a TV satire serial of Pankaj Kapoor ” Office – Office” where an peon tells after spitting pan waste that ” Mera Nishana Kabhi Galat Nahi Hota Hai; Aap chinta Mat Karo ; Mera Dhook Aapke upar Bilkul Nahi Gira Hena”:

    One of out safety auditors from England commended that “Indians throw waste at the bin and not in the bin”. Theek Hi Hena?

  10. To me ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness. It is a way of life. Cleanliness is of the mind,body and soul. It is not one single stroke of the broom. It is a daily activity,as also a continuous one. Cleansing from within and without is a part of maintenance. It is our religious duty.’ One area where I have failed miserably is in infecting the cleanliness virus in others.I am mighty ashamed of that drawback, having failed despite trying several times.

  11. Dr. Asoka Misra

    I think the cartoon at the end of the article by Mr. Satish Acharya spoke with much clarity and strongly as to HOW-n-WHEN the Bharat will really look ‘ Swachha ‘, mind it pl.

  12. As expressed in my blog on the subject, cleanliness and sanitation is more a value-system which comes with the culture of growth and development. A poor man can’t be expected to imbibe the values of cleanliness unless he is given better opportunities in life. Cleanliness and sanitation goes hand-in-hand with the culture of prosperity. The sensitization drive must be accompanied with increased and sustained efforts towards providing better education, employment and opportunities for growth in each individual’s life. For more log on to

  13. Pingback: For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!! | Right from my heart

  14. K.N. Sankara Narayanan

    My Gulf Experience on spitting & throwing garbage – Indians working in all parts of the gulf very strictly follow the rules. But on reaching back they continue their old habits. Most of them not bothered as the rules are different in India. Unless heavy fine is imposed, they will continue their old habits on return to India. Even the present generation also does not bother, even though the awareness for cleanliness is there. Only good habits and patriotism will work and it should come to them on their own.

  15. I agree – it starts with us. And it needs to be inculcated in our children. I have seen parents turning a blind eye and sometimes even asking their children to throw that ice-cream wrapper on the side of the road! Now c’mon …

  16. Anand,
    Very nicely written. As u said cleaning is not required if everything is already kept cleanly.just like charity begins at home cleanliness begins with self and each individual should take it as his responsibility. A long way to go for India but if this initiative continues well then may be someday u can see a clean India.

  17. Very well articulated Anand. I think all like minded people much align and drive this social change. I remember 15-20 years back, there was this another big issue of smoking every where and anywhere. Offices, restaurants, flights, ( Smoking section ), trains, platforms, university, parks – almost everywhere…While, the law and implementation will, did contribute, I think it was the social pressure from like minded people, that resulted in making all public places smoke free..

    I am sure if we do our bit in educating and protesting we can dream of a Swatch Bharat in the future…


  18. Hi Anand,
    Well said. PM as the first step has created the awareness and hope will follow up bringing infra-structure like trash cans and regular clean up’s by the staff (and also recycling facilities). Same for celebrities. The idea is not to clean just in front of camera men! Fortunately paan is not a big issue in south India but it needed union minister’s inspection to find out why the toilet is stinking in the newly built airport. Let us not forget “no toilet, no bride” campaign by Jairam Ramesh where he listed the challenges in implementing that. In the west, the dog owners clean up after their dogs taking the responsibility. Let us not confront people 🙂 but educate them. Let us create a social stigma against those littering or spitting in public. It maytake a while depending on how quickly we create that stigma.


  19. Very nicely put. Agree with your thoughts. I also think change in mindset and outlook towards cleanliness, and more general in developing a great civic sense is very much required in India. Alongside education, it probably requires a greater analysis into why we have the mentality is due.

    Thanks for sharing the post.

    1. Agree Suri. Even after this hi visible hi voltage campaign of the PM, it is frustrating to see still grown up people littering on the road, throwing cig. butts and ofcourse spitting!!! Its going to be a long haul.
      Appreciate your feedback.

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  24. fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector
    do not realize this. You must continue your writing.
    I’m confident, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

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