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The Success Story Of India’s Sanitation Mission

On a global stage where sanitation is recognised as the linchpin of public health, India is pushing boundaries by redefining sanitation as the ‘New Health’ with its transformational mission for a cleaner, healthier and happier world

Photo: Getty Images
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In transition from a nation once infamous for unsanitary living conditions to an emerging global role model in sanitation has garnered widespread acclaim and stands as a testament to its steadfast dedication to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This remarkable story of transformation took the centre stage at the recent G20 Summit, where India showcased its strides towards fulfilling SDG objectives related to water and sanitation, serving up an inspirational template for others to emulate. The impact of these concerted efforts earned the recognition of leaders of both G20 and the global south.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s steadfast commitment and visionary leadership have been pivotal throughout the indigenous Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) journey, serving as a wellspring of inspiration. India’s sanitation journey is unique because of its ambitious scale and efforts to engage a wide array of stakeholders, including panchayat representatives, public figures, celebrities, faith leaders, corporate captains, civil society, global experts and, most importantly, the masses. It is a story of resilience, determination and a nation’s unstinted dedication to creating a sustainable future for all. The approach has been effectively guided by the ABCDEF formula, which comprises aligning institutional priorities, believing in potential, communicating effectively, democratising action, evaluating progress and following through on commitments.

Innovation is indeed at the core of this groundbreaking initiative. Going beyond the ordinary, the movement has rallied the masses and celebrities, infused cooperative federalism into social sector delivery models, bridged various religions on interfaith platforms and merged the social assets of both the public and private sectors.

Going forward, the nation’s sanitation campaign is poised to scale even greater heights, swept up by the next wave of technology-driven advancements that promise to impact the global sanitation stage profoundly. Breakthrough technologies like IoT-based waste management solutions that harness the potential of smart devices, sensors and AI-equipped cameras promise to revolutionise how we address sanitation challenges. By helping us optimise waste collection, enhance segregation processes and improve recycling methods, these tools promise to significantly increase the efficiency and sustainability of our sanitation campaign.

Companies across the spectrum, from the public sector to the private sector, are venturing beyond their traditional boundaries. While some latecomers are in the process of aligning their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives with India’s national cleanliness mission, Reckitt holds a distinct headstart advantage, having been deeply committed to the mission from the very beginning. The core values of safeguarding, healing and nurturing people and the environment are embedded in the very fabric of our operations. We do not merely manufacture sanitation products; we actively promote well-being through self-care. This transformative shift in corporate mindset is turning our business purpose into a shared aspiration for every company.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s steadfast commitment and visionary leadership have been pivotal throughout the indigenous Swachh Bharat Mission journey, serving as a wellspring of inspiration

The communication strategy, too, has transcended traditional boundaries by embracing innovation and harnessing a wide range of mediums, from the modest radio to the influential Bollywood. This change is visible in the dramatic shift away from uninspiring sepia documentaries to powerful films like Toilet Ek Prem Katha. Such communication innovations are contributing to the mission’s goal to establish improved sanitation as the prevailing norm by dismantling entrenched stigmas related to open defecation and reshaping societal perspectives.

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With massive public spending dedicated to SBM, India has left no stone unturned in its mission to lift millions out of the quagmire of dirt, disease and poverty. The country, comprising mostly economically disadvantaged people, has achieved a remarkable feat in social engineering over the past decade. It has transformed its landscape and is serving as a model for other nations in the global south facing similar challenges. The mission has not only improved public health but also spurred economic prosperity and social transformation.

The results achieved by India over the past nine years are truly staggering. There is no better way to exemplify the success of our sanitation efforts than by comparing two striking pieces of statistics. Today, more than 75% of India’s villages have earned the distinction of being declared open defecation-free (ODF-Plus), implying that they have moved beyond mere ODF status to establish effective solid or liquid waste management systems. This remarkable achievement has been possible due to the construction of over 11 crore toilets and a large scale reconstruction of people’s mindset towards proper sanitation practices.

While the construction of toilets may be the most visible metaphor for SBM in India, the country’s sanitation mission encompasses much more—it represents a bold step in redefining health, dignity and environmental sustainability.

India’s triumphant sanitation campaign glows as a guiding light for sustainable development, exemplifying how a nation can reshape societal norms, improve lives and advance the global pursuit of SDGs. It serves as a testament to the power of leadership, collective action and unwavering commitment, providing invaluable insights for addressing complex global challenges. India has not merely reimagined the significance of sanitation; on a global stage where sanitation is recognised as the linchpin of public health, India is pushing boundaries by redefining sanitation as the “New Health”.

Gaurav Jain is Executive Vice President, Reckitt.

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