Modi’s Swachh Bharat mantra doesn’t work 50 metres from his gates

Over 400 families are forced to live with obnoxious stink, sewer overflow across streets, rundown public toilets and a fear of epidemic outbreak in BR Camp, a stone’s throw from the PM’s residence

NH Photo by Vipin 
NH Photo by Vipin

Ashutosh Sharma

The front page images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching his vaunted Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) are still a flashbulb memory for the Indian people. On October 2, 2014, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi stood shoulder to shoulder with NDMC workers, and, with a broom in hand, swept the floors of Valmiki Basti, 5 km away from his prime ministerial residence on 7, Race Course Road, New Delhi. But nearly three years later, just 50 metres from the main gate of Modi’s high-security New Delhi address, more than 400 families live in squalor amid filth. National Herald takes you to BR camp, Race Course Road, New Delhi, bang opposite the Prime Minister’s residence.

Home to over 400 families, who settled here nearly 50 years back, the area is a proverbial stink hole. The place’s sanitary and cleanliness conditions have always been far from satisfactory. But it has worsened over the last three years, the residents feel. Officials of Delhi Race Club recently blocked all drains and broke the pipes that were used to discharge sewage into a channel that runs along the boundary wall of the club.

The boundary wall now has coils of concertina wires on the top of it. It dissuades residents from crossing over the wall and opening the drains.

The locality doesn’t have any alternative when it comes to drainage. It lacks soakage pits or any other arrangement for liquid waste disposal. The small courtyard of the dilapidated community toilet complex in the middle of the camp wears the look of a garbage dump. The drains inside the camp overflow with sewage and garbage, filling the air with obnoxious sewer stink. The real possibility of an epidemic outbreak is way too unreal to fathom.

As one gets deep inside the slum area, the following sights welcome you: Women cooking, washing clothes and utensils near open and clogged drains. Some collect drinking water from the public taps. Toddlers run along the open drains, always at risk of falling into them.

NH Photo by Vipin
NH Photo by Vipin
Children carry drinking water in plastic containers collected from a public tap near an open sewage drain 

Most of the residents National Herald speaks to are worried over worsening sanitary conditions. The sewage water has started overflowing from dilapidated drains onto the lanes and is seeping into their houses as well. “Since morning, I’ve twice cleared our room of sewage water with a bucket. You finish and the dirty water starts seeping in, again and again,” says Suman, whose house touches the boundary wall of the Delhi Race Club and the nullah.

The public toilets of the settlement are dilapidated and in urgent need of repair. Roots have made their way across the walls and roofs. A cave-in is a distinct possibility.

“I am worried that my family may get infected with diseases anytime soon,” an anxious Suman says, pointing at the blocked sewage pipe of the small makeshift toilet cum bathroom adjacent to her room.

“Save us from the high-handedness and hooliganism of Delhi Race Club. For the past 50 years, the sewage water of our drains was flowing into the nullah that runs along the Delhi Race Club wall. But the club’s officials have got our drains blocked and pipes dismantled. Consequently, our women have been facing a lot of issues. Taking bath has become such a problem. Absence of a proper drainage system has led to waterlogging in our camp. Rainwater also flows into these drains. With our drainage system broken, there is stink everywhere and we fear that an epidemic may break out soon,” reads an official complaint filed on May 26 with Police Station, Tughlak Road, by Ramesh Kumar, head of the camp. Many residents signed the same.

On May 21 this year, the Delhi Race Club officials reportedly tried to remove a signage installed by NDMC in the locality that advertises the Clean India Mission and impresses upon use of toilets and garbage bins to keep the city clean. But they left in face of angry protest by the residents. The complaint, filed following this incident and mentioned above, also accuses the Race Club officials of trying to vandalise government property (the signage).

Rano, an octogenarian, has this to say: “Earlier, Delhi Race Club needed us for looking after horses and feeding them. They would employ us in janitorial work besides providing us other menial jobs for livelihood. We wanted to leave this place 25 to 30 years back but they didn’t let us go. Now they get cheap labour from elsewhere and don’t want us to live here.”

Ramesh says, “Neither the police, nor NDMC is paying heed to our problems. The officials of Delhi Race Club don’t speak to us. Whoever raises his/her voice, the officials ban the entry of the entire family inside the race course and subsequently they lose employment.”

“Instead of redressing our grievances, the NDMC official threaten us with fine and legal action, saying that we don’t keep our locality clean,” he laments, adding that last year, numerous cases of dengue and malaria were reported from the locality.

NDMC officials, when contacted, refused to comment on the issue. Even Dilip Kumar, SHO, Police Station, Tughlak Road, feigned ignorance when contacted by National Herald.

“TV channels keep running misleading advertisements about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan all through the day. But, the government seems to be blind towards the pathetic sanitary conditions in our locality which is just across the road from PM’s residence,” rues Nitish Kumar, a resident, adding that the Prime Minister ought to do a reality check for implementation of the scheme.

A nationwide programme to improve cleanliness and hygiene around the country was launched in 2014, strikingly similar to the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan that was launched by UPA-II in 2013. A 0.5 % additional tax was imposed on services to meet the multibillion-dollar programme’s expenses. Till June, 2015 alone, nearly Rs 100 crore was spent to advertise Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

But barely 50 metres from where Narendra Modi sleeps at night, about 2000 people live in such subhuman conditions. This is possibly a point to ponder when it comes to understanding the outreach of the programme in spite of the government’s tall claims. India will be filth-free by October 2, 2019, the Prime Minister announced in 2014. But looking at the conditions at BR Camp, right next to his residence, one can’t help but take this with a pinch of salt, if not a lump.

Incidentally, the residents of Valmiki Basti had wondered in 2014 as to why PM Modi chose their locality to unveil the flagship programme. Their colony, they felt, did not suffer from bad sanitation conditions.

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