In a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s habit for observing cleanliness, India commemorated the Father of Nation’s 150th birth anniversary on October 2, by launching several cleanliness drives while pledging to do away with single use plastics (SUP) for the sake of health and environment. Though no blanket ban has been imposed by the government on plastic use, the occasion was used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reiterate his government’s commitment to eradicate single-use plastic from the country by the year 2022.
As per estimates, India generates 62 million tonnes of trash every year. Of this, a large percentage accounts for plastics. On account of consistent cleanliness drives under ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ and emphasis on the creation of organized system for waste management, the country has witnessed a decline in littering of wastes, including throwaway plastic products. Still, there is need of vigorous campaign against the use of plastic, especially single-use plastic bags, bottles and cups as toxins, poisons and pollutants present in these plastic products leach and enter human bodies, causing several grave diseases, including cancer.
The environment too is at the receiving end of plastic generated pollution. Single-use plastic is triggering climate change. It contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle—from its management to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. As per a report, plastic will be responsible for up to 13 per cent of the total carbon footprint on earth by 2050. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic lifestyle are threatening the ability of the international community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degree Celsius.
Besides, throwaway plastic products like bags, bottles, sachets are choking water bodies like rivers and seas, leading to imbalance in the river’s or sea’s eco-system. The only solution to this hazard is to take preventive measures against plastic use and this is what India emphasized upon while observing the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
India is not only unswerving in its motive to rid the country of single-use plastics in the next three years, it is also committed for cleanliness commensurate with Gandhi’s dream. Ninety nine per cent villages of the country have declared themselves open defecation free. In the past 60 months, 11 crore toilets have been built across India. For this, credit goes to Prime Minister Modi as he made cleanliness one of the key missions of his government since its inauguration in 2014. Toilets represent India’s commitment to free itself from squalor which has a direct link with people’s health.
As per a report, over one lakh children die every year in India due to poor sanitation and hygiene issues. The Lancet, the world’s oldest medical journal, has cited malnourishment and septic bacterial infections caused by water contaminated with human or animal faeces and poor personal hygiene as the key reasons for diarrhoea-related deaths in India.
Lack of sanitation has a direct link in breeding of mosquitoes and triggering of mosquito-bite related diseases like malaria and dengue. The Indian Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized on behavioural change towards cleanliness in order to free the country from the burden of disease and death. The ‘Global Goalkeeper’ award conferred on Mr.Modi by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently is testimony of his pioneering leadership in making ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ a cornerstone of India’s initiative towards health and hygiene.
The mission that promises to improve health, safety and dignity of hundreds of millions of Indians, is not without significant economic windfall. According to a UNICEF report, India’s flagship scheme has created over 75 lakh jobs and has had a positive effect of Rs. 20 lakh crore on the Indian economy. In effect, cleanliness is not only next to godliness, but also next to growth and empowerment. No tribute to the Mahatma will be strong enough without underlining the importance of clean environment for growth of healthy and prosperous society.
Shankar Kumar, Senior Journalist