modicastleReel Vs Real
RK Misra, OP, on FB

Gandhinagar: Cleanliness germinates in the mind and spreads to the streets. Oct 2 marks the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi (1869) and one of his most unassuming disciples Lal Bahadur Shastri (1904). Ironically what the Mahatma enunciated in five simple sentences a century ago is today the subject of a high-decibel multi-million rupee national project called Clean India Mission or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It was launched by PM Narendra Modi on Gandhi’s birthday two years ago. Coupled with the Digital India initiative – both have a completion deadline of 2019 – the two projects if successfully completed possess the capacity to radically change the face of independent India almost as much as Rajiv Gandhi’s telecom revolution and village panchayat empowerment or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Golden Quadrilateral initiative.

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan envisages construction of 1.04 crore individual household toilets in all the 4041 statutory cities and towns besides 5.06 lakh community & public toilets and 100% door to door collection and scientific disposal of solid waste at a cost of Rs62,009 crore. The mission is to clean up the country by 2019, the year that marks the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, who wanted to make sanitation a priority for India over a hundred years ago. Simply put, Digital India seeks to provide broadband access to all with every manner of accompanying services at the citizens’ door steps by 2019. These are laudable objectives and path breaking initiatives. They are something to feel both happy and proud about!

Let us take a simple reality check on a project that is slated for completion in 2019. I have built a modest dwelling on the outskirts of Gujarat’s biggest city Ahmedabad. It is merely a 10-minute drive to where the judges of Gujarat HC reside. It is 3km from Sanskar Dham, an educational initiative very dear to Modi and undertaken at a time when he was not even the Chief Minister.

The BSNL says it cannot provide me a landline for lack of feasibility and my BSNL mobile goes non-functional the moment I reach the place. So much for implementation of Digital India in the PM’s home state, alongside its biggest city and close to an institution that is a pure labour of love for him personally. Aware of this state of affairs in a state helmed by Modi for a decade and quarter, what should one make of the announcement that the Centre has this week completed the rollout of telecom networks in areas most affected by left-wing extremism across 10 states in record time? What except a pinch of salt!

It is not uncommon to check the surroundings for basic services in a place where one plans to move in. The nearest village is Manipur. It is a mere 500 yards from Sanskar Dham. Heaps of garbage litter the road and people heading for the fields, plastic bottle in hand, is a common morning sight here. Ahmedabad city itself generates 1.14 lakh tonnes of waste every month and does not possess the capacity to dispose of more than a fraction of it for all its clamour for global heritage status.

Change scene to state capital Gandhinagar where I reside. My morning walk takes me past sector eight. This is where the bulk of the state’s elite – IAS, IPS and IFS officers reside. Every morning I am greeted by a string of men and women – the people who serve and service the elite – similarly heading for the nearest thicket to answer the call of nature. If this is the state of affairs in the area of elite in the model state of Gujarat, what hope is there for the rest? Imagine Gandhiji delivering a speech in 1936 on the sanitation standards of the menials matching those that the ministers they would be serving!

This forcefully rubs home the point that while the objectives of both Clean India Mission and Digital India are laudable they suffer from basic infirmities. Modi has a weakness for the ‘gargantuan’ rather than the achievable. The ‘political’ timeline attached to them not only puts the implementing machinery under intense pressure but also leads to all sorts of unethical practices and unsavoury number fudging that negates the good.

The much touted Gujarat model also has an overflowing scrap yard of ambitious discords that were binned after they had served their poll purpose. 50 lakh houses for the poor and the lower middle class in five years was Modi’s fancy announcement before the 2012 polls complete with colourful brochure and a five star lunch. This is gone with the wind. Then CM Modi had on June 26, 2005, announced the discovery of an estimated 20 trillion cubic feet (TCF) in the Kakinada block of the Krishna Godavari basin. At the rates then, it was valued at $30 billion (Rs 2,20,000 crore). By 2009, Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation had cut its gas reserve estimates by 90% and last heard had borrowed more than Rs19,000 crore without starting the commercial production from the block. These are just two things in a cupboard full of skeletons.

According to the latest study by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) 1.09 crore toilets were built across the country in the first 11 months of 2015-16 but a majority of the people in the rural areas – 52.1%- do not use them. The data also indicates that despite the mission targeting students by providing toilets in schools, 56.6 per cent of the people in rural areas chose open defecation. The survey also revealed a lack of infrastructure for drainage and disposal of waste. As much as 44% of villages surveyed did not have any drainage while 63% of wards did not have a liquid waste disposal system. Chronic water shortage to service these toilets made matters worse.

Digital India is increasingly acquiring the hues of a pipedream. It is not new but is the incorporation of three ongoing programmes – the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), the National Optical Knowledge Network and the e-governance initiative.

India ranks 125th in the world for wired broadband penetration says Rahul Khullar, a former chairman of TRAI with 1.2 per 100 people having access as against a global average of 9.4. In wireless-broadband, India is 113th with a penetration of 3.2 per hundred. In NOFN, less than 3% of the target has been achieved so far. The target of linking gram panchayats, despite being scaled down, is far behind the schedule.

The fact is that the marketing genius just packed the three ongoing initiatives into a glittering package called Digital India and sold it with a 2019 deadline. Both the ambitious projects will be deemed to be completed in time for the next general elections in 2019. Mission achieved. Chest thumping time!

It hardly matters that as of this day 80% of the Adarsh (ideal) villages selected by 702 MPs two years ago as part of the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna (Parliament Ideal Village Scheme), still practice open defecation. This is as per official govt statistics!