India is considered the world’s dirtiest and most-filthy country. This does not refer to merely environmental pollution, bad as it is. It refers to garbage, and human and animal waste strewn in the streets of cities and towns across the country. Most people drink cow urine and splash cow dung broth on their bodies as “protection” against Covid!
Bare-footed poverty-stricken children rummage through mountain high piles of garbage for pieces of cloth or even rotting food. In addition to the stench, these rat-infested garbage dumps are breeding grounds for more diseases among children.
Lest some readers think that our assertion of India as the most-filthy country in the world is based on prejudice, consider this. In his article in the Indian magazine, The Citizen, dated December 10, 2020, Mohan Guruswamy had this to say.
“The influential magazine ‘The Economist’ recently carried a story about India’s environment: ‘Why is India one of the most polluted countries on Earth’. The ‘Economic Times’ followed this with a story headlined ‘India alarmingly filthy even by standards of poor countries.’ Nobody living here can deny it.
“Most of our lakes and rivers are severely poisoned with urban and chemical effluents.” He could have added that dead carcases float in the rivers. People dump ashes of the dead as well as other garbage into the rivers and then bathe in the polluted water. There is of course the problem of environmental pollution.
On November 4, 2022, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that schools will close for primary classes – up to Class 5 from November 5 because of air pollution in the city. Smog levels are much higher than those considered a serious risk to health. Secondary and senior secondary classes were allowed to remain open but outdoor activities and PE periods were disallowed.
For a country that has ambitions to attain the status of a ‘superpower’, however distant, the filth in its streets definitely acts as an impediment to its dreams. Filth and superpower status just do not go together. Most people in India lack basic civic sense. Cleanliness is not part of their habit. This is the direct result of circumstances.
According to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) programme, 80 million people out of 1.2 billion Indians, roughly equal to 6.7% of India’s population, lived below the poverty line of $1.25 and 84% of Indians lived on less than $6.85 per day in 2019. When food and basic survival are fundamental priorities for most people, it is unrealistic to expect that they would care much about hygiene. Most people live on the street or in heavily-congested slums such as those in Mumbai.
Lack of public amenities, such as toilets, force people to urinate and defecate in the streets. Anyone who has traveled on a train into Delhi in the early morning would have seen thousands of people defecating nonchalantly along the railway tracks. People urinate facing walls or in the air.
Add to that the refuse that flows into India’s rivers in which people bathe and even drink that water for ‘blessings’ and one can begin to see the scale of the problem.
On October 2, 2014, Narendra Modi, the freshly-minted prime minister, launched what was called Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen—SBMG), meaning ‘Clean India Mission’. Within five years, every village, town and city across India had to be “open-defecation free” (ODF). This required constructing 100 million toilets across India. All jurisdictions duly declared themselves “open-defecation free” on October 2, 2019. The reality, however, is very different as testified to by visitors to India. Even Donald Trump, who tried to cultivate close links with India, especially Modi, was forced to blurt out that ‘India is filthy’, after a visit there.
Indian newspapers have been equally scathing. Here is a headline from the National Herald of India: ‘Why is India still the world’s dirtiest and most polluted country?’ The paper went on to elaborate: “It is quite apparent that six years after the Prime Minister announced ‘Swachch Bharat Abhiyan’ with much fanfare, there has been little change at the ground level.”
Mohan Guruswamy is even more scathing in his criticism of India’s filth and the official attempt to clean it. “It is almost impossible to find any pavements in our towns and cities, and when there are some, they are strewn with trash and wet with urine. Simple logic tells us we need a lot more trash bins and public toilets. But that is the easier part. Keeping them clean and usable is the more difficult part.
“Clearly, we are failing. We have a system of high-cost government with low returns. We need a newer and better way of managing ourselves.” He pointed out that the three levels of government together employ about 18.5 million people dealing with such issues. At the local government level, where there is the most interaction with common people, there are only 2.053 million employees.
“This simply means we have five persons ordering us about, for every one supposedly serving us. What this translates into is that if you build toilets, you won’t have enough people to clean them. Ditto for sewage systems,” wrote Guruswamy.
Far from solving the problem of ‘open defecation’, the toilets built under Modi’s pet project have only added more filth and smell. Soon after the toilets were opened—to much fanfare, one must point out—they became clogged because the drains were not connected. Raw human waste flowed into the streets. Not used to using toilets, people dumped everything from cloths, stones and a host of other trash into toilets.
Modi and his henchmen were not deterred by failure. After the five-year-period and its massive failure, Phase II of the SMBG was launched. The aim was to ensure that the ‘open defecation free behaviours’ are sustained. They did not bother to see that the first phase had been a total failure and that there was nothing to ‘sustain’.
India remains the world’s dirtiest country because there are few facilities for garbage disposal, not enough toilets and a lack of basic civic sense among the people.