India has come a long way since V.S. Naipaul recoiled from the filth he encountered here in the 1960s. It has turned cleaner, most markedly over the past five years. Credit largely goes to the Swachh Bharat Mission. In recognition of its success, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has decided to confer on Prime Minister Narendra Modi its Goalkeepers Global Goals Award. Critics have questioned the choice, but independent studies that show a behavioural shift of massive proportions toward hygiene make it clear how well deserved the award is.
Half a billion Indians are estimated to have quit defecating in the open since October 2014, when the mission began, with just 50 million more to go. A survey by a verification agency under World Bank supervision found that 90.4% of villages are open defecation-free, 93.1% of rural households have access to toilets, and that 96.5% of them use these. WHO estimates suggest thousands of lives may have been saved by the cleanliness drive. Rarely has so much been achieved so rapidly. Perhaps the size of the challenge has bred some scepticism, but Swachh Bharat has made this country safer for vast numbers. And that’s beyond dispute.
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