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| TNN | Jan 23, 2017, 12.35 AM IST

Bengaluru: He has 70 awards and a rare honour to his credit. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, known in the field of sanitation and environment, was recently honoured by the New York City which declared this year’s April 14 as Bindeshwar Pathak Day. The 73-year-old, who was chosen the brand ambassador of the Swachh Rail Mission, maintains that he’s not just a face. With a focus on vision, commitment and efficiency, he’s on a mission to give a facelift to Indian Railways. Excerpts from the interview:

Is it a tough challenge to become the brand ambassador of the Swachh Rail Mission?

Not at all. I’m not just a face. I’ve worked in this field for five decades—provided toilets in villages and cities and fought to get rid of manual scavenging. Sulabh International has even gotten into treating sewage water, composting excreta and setting up of biogas plants. We’ve already cleaned 1,860 railway stations since I became the brand ambassador for this movement. Not just railway officials, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent me a letter of appreciation. I’ll inform railway minister Suresh Prabhu the changes needed to be made to make the mission a success. Contractors clean for commercial gains, but I know cleaning is a matter of commitment, vision, efficiency and honesty.

The trains in India are dirty to say the least… What is Swachh Rail?

There would be many schools around 8,000-plus railway stations in India. Regular clean-up drives can be undertaken on weekends, involving schools. Students can be given food and a certificate of social service. Corporates can pool in their CSR money for providing potable water at a subsidized rate, like we are offering—Re one per litre. They can charge Rs 2/litre also. A part of the funds can be used to provide/clean toilets in railway stations. We also want station toilets to have sanitary napkins for women passengers, incineration plants around or tie-up with them for safe disposal. The fourth proposal might sound costly but it will benefit the Railways in the long run. If each coach can collect urine and waste water through a tank attached to it, that can be treated and re-used. This will also stop dirtying and rusting of tracks.

You have fought against manual scavenging too. In Karnataka, one life is lost every 27 days due to suffocation while manually scavenging.

To be brutally honest, politicians and bureaucrats have to feel the pinch of how it feels to go down into a manhole or clean somebody’s waste. But they won’t do it. People employed as scavengers should form unions in every town and city and crusade for their rights and safety like Sulabh did. They should refuse to do the job, until light and other personal safety equipment are provided. There should be one institution in every city to support their cause. And the government should book the culprits for every death of a manual scavenger.

The Swachh Bharat movement is a big game changer for India. But when it started, many wielded brooms on weekends for photo ops. And now, there aren’t many events. Does it mean the steam has gone?

The mission has to be led by non-government organizations or institutions because government agencies will never face the brunt or be penalized for not doing their job. Keeping our city clean is like growing a child; we have to nurture cleanliness, every moment. Social assets should be entrusted to people who understand social values.

You are here to meet the state government. What’s the plan?

Karnataka has already moved forward in building the highest number of toilets so far. I will propose to help the government to fulfil its target ahead of time (two years). We’re supporting many states in north, east and north-east to achieve their targets.

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