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Gandhiji and Sanitisation

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  • Published
    28th Aug, 2021


The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBM) has become an embodiment of the collective spirit of the nation, showing that with a strong and committed political leadership, public financing, partnerships and most importantly people's participation in the development process, no goal is impossible to achieve.


The history of sanitation in modern India begins with the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. There was no contemporary political leader or social reformer who emphasised and worked so much for sanitation as much Gandhiji did. As a social reformer, Mahatma Gandhi had led the sanitation movement from the very beginning of his public life. Even before the plague outbreak in South Africa and his experiments with toilets in Tolstoy Ashram, and frequent writings about the need to improve sanitation in colonies of Indians; he had a life-learning lesson on swachhata from Uka, a boy who used to clean child Mohandas's house at Porbandar. This lesson from the little boy who kept their house clean yet himself was considered unclean and untouchable, moved young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and transformed him into a lifelong crusader against inequality, injustice, insanitation, and untouchability.

Events from Gandhiji life:

  • In South Africa, when Natal Indian Congress was constituted in 1894 with the active help of Gandhiji, his first advice and campaign were for individual and social sanitation.
  • Before the eruption of the black plague, Gandhiji once again alarmed the British to improve the sanitary conditions of Indian settlements.
  • He gave a piece of clear advice to all Indians in his article published on October 14, 1905 issue of the Indian Opinion. He said every educated Indian had a unique privilege: he could become a missionary in hygiene and sanitation.
  • In his maiden speech at the inauguration of Benares Hindu University. He said, "If even our temples are not models of roominess and cleanliness, what can our self-government be?
  • Addressing the Bihar Students Conference in Bhagalpur in 1917, he told students to become torchbearers in the movement for sanitation and hygiene.
  • Sanitation and hygiene become an important constructive programme for Gandhiji and he declared that "Conservation of national sanitation is a Swaraj work and it may not be postponed for a single day on any consideration whatsoever."
  • He described insanitation, poverty and idleness, as a trinity of evil plaguing our villages.

It was natural that Gandhiji's ideals made a place in independent India's Constitution. The freedom movement has inspired the Constitution in a big way and the subject of health, sanitation and environment was no exception.

  • Article 47 of the Constitution provides inter alia that the State shall regard raising the standards of living of its people and improvement of public health as among its primary duties.
  • Article 48-A provides for protection and improvement of the environment as an endeavour of the State.

Without adequate and appropriate sanitation none of the three—raising the standards of living, improving public health and protection and improvement of the environment—are possible.

  1. The five-year plans launched since1951 attempted to address the basic amenitiesto independent India's people. In the first five-year plan (1951-56), health and sanitation wereidentified as a priority.
  2. In 1954, the National Water Supply and Rural Sanitation Programme was launched for providing water supply and improving sanitary practices in rural India.
Since then, sanitisation has remained as such a low priority programme with an inadequate budget. In the first five-year plans first due to negligible fund allocation and low political priority, rural sanitisation was never on the horizon of policymaker’s vision
  1. Only when the UN declared the 1980s as International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade, Sixth Plan (1980-85) gave some prominence to rural sanitation.
  2. In 1986, India's first rural sanitation programme, Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) was launched.
  3. Based on CRSP experience, the Government of India launched two more campaigns, first the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 1999, and then Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) in 2008. But these two programmes could not achieve the desired results.
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on 15 August 2014 brought sanitation into the national consciousness and mainstream national discourse. He asked all Indians if they do not owe it to Mahatma Gandhi for Indian villages, cities, streets, communities, schools, temples, hospitals and all public places to become free from dirt and filth. He urged and challenged the people to commit to a target of ending open defecation forever and fulfilling Bapu's dream of a Swachh Bharat by 2 October 2019, Gandhiji's 150th birth anniversary.
  • The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBM) became an embodiment of the collective spirit of the nation, showing that with a strong and committed political leadership, public financing, partnerships and most importantly people's participation in the development process, no goal is impossible to achieve.
  • More than 55 Crore Indians started using toilets and on 2nd October 2019, all Indian Districts and States declared themselves as Open Defecation Free (ODF).
  • Achieving an ODF India in record time also meant that India attained Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2 — Sanitation for all — eleven years before the UN's SDG target of 31stDecember 2030.


  • The vision of swachhata as dreamt by Gandhiji is much beyond the use of toilets. One goal is achieved but there are many more to be attained. Thus, when India enters into 75th year of independence, swachhata yatra As the Prime Minister said, achieving ODF status is just one stage, one level. The journey to realise the dreams of Bapu towards clean India continuesunabated.

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