Cleanliness is next to godliness. It wards off illness and can dramatically improve well-being and economic prospects. Since 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the call for the Swachh Bharat Mission, the whole country has been pursuing greater milestones in cleanliness.

Today, the Prime Minister’s message of cleanliness has become a jan andolan and is much more than a government programme. It has transformed the picture of rural India. Our country came together in the world’s largest behaviour change campaign and rural India achieved Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. There is no stopping us — as a people, and now, rural India is proceeding rapidly towards another milestone.

The second phase

Under Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen, Phase 2, villages are progressing towards achieving ODF Plus status. This involves the management of all kinds of waste — be it biodegradable waste, plastic waste, grey water, faecal sludge, etc. In August this year, our country reached another milestone — that is, of over one lakh villages declaring themselves as ODF Plus.

In September, all villages in Andaman and Nicobar Islands declared themselves ODF Plus Model. This is a great achievement! The process of solid and liquid waste management involves technical aspects, relatively new to rural India and is a second-generation issue.

Provision of toilets (if they are not of turn-pit technology) has led to the need to manage faecal waste. Additionally, with potable water supply, more greywater is being generated from cooking, washing, etc., that must be treated and reused; and with lifestyle changes and the use of packaged food products, the menace of plastic waste is rearing its ugly head in rural areas also, which must also be managed effectively.

This is what the second Phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen (SBM-G) is about — to appropriately manage all types of waste that will not only make our villages clean, but also create avenues for income generation for rural households and new livelihood opportunities, while fulfilling the requirements of sustainable development.

SBM-G reinforces our commitment to promote hygiene and safe sanitation and, thereby, improve the quality of life of citizens. The States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry and Telangana have performed notably, as more than half the villages across these States are ODF Plus. These findings are based on The Swachh Survekshan Grameen (SSG), which our department has been conducting since 2018. SSG has generated strong zeal for cleanliness and has become a vehicle for a people-led movement to ensure prompt positive action and outputs on the ground.

We have now launched SSG 2023 to make the exercise more participatory by introducing panchayat self-assessment on ODF Plus parameters. This will create healthy competition among panchayats, districts, and States, to perform better, imbibe best practices and self-assess progress on goals. The Survekshan will be conducted in two stages — village-level assessment and district-level assessment.

As on December 22, more than 3.2 lakh villages have completed the baseline self-assessment.

Peer verification

The next step, peer verification, will happen at the block level for all villages which undertook self-assessment. Villages shortlisted, based on performance, at the block level will then be assessed at the district, State and national levels to identify the best panchayats in the country. This is being envisaged to promote the spirit of competition but more so towards cross-learning among GPs.

In the second stage, the performance of districts will be assessed based on their progress on ODF Plus indicators and direct observation of villages by a third-party agency. All districts have been categorised into “Star categories” based on their ODF+ scores and they can continue to graduate to higher star categories as they improve their ODF+ scores. The ODF+ score of a district is generated based on the ODF Plus status of its villages.

Overall, this SSG 2023 framework will lead to district, State and national level rewards and recognition for GPs, districts and States. The national award ceremony for felicitating best performing GPs, districts and States will be held on October 2, 2023.

Behind all this, is a resolve to serve the people by empowering them to take positive action for their own well-being. Throughout this journey, it is the dogged resolve of the people that has been a standout feature. And it is they, who continue lead our country to newer milestones.

The writer is Secretary, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti