Prime Minister Narendra Modi was conferred the Global Goalkeeper Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the Swachh Bharat mission on September 24th. The PM said the honor bestowed on him was for the millions of Indians who participated in the mission.
He said receiving the award on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary is especially significant for him, for it shows people’s power – of the determination of 1.3 billion people to achieve any goal.
Three Nobel prize laureates – Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian activist, Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland who was honoured in 1976, and Yemini journalist Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman – wrote an open letter urging the foundation to change its decision to give the award to Modi.
“We were deeply disturbed to discover that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be giving an award to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi later this month,” they wrote. “Under prime minister Modi’s leadership, India has descended into dangerous and deadly chaos that has consistently undermined human rights, democracy. This is particularly troubling to us as the stated mission of your foundation is to preserve life and fight inequity.”
Modi said that when he first talked about the Clean India campaign five years ago, there were “different reactions”, but “if you are committed to your goal then these are of no importance. What is important is the united efforts to make India clean and the development of a mindset in 1.3 billion Indians, and every single effort that people make for this effort. I therefore dedicate this award to those who made cleanliness the highest priority in their daily lives,” he said.
He said though the Swachh Bharat mission was begun by his government, the people took charge of it. “I think of the woman who sold her sheep to build a toilet, of the retired man who donated his pension for a toilet, or the lady who sold her mangalsutra to build a toilet. Such a campaign has been unheard of in recent times,” the PM said.
When he took over in 2014, less than 40 per cent homes had toilets in the country, and now it is close to 100 percent. He said the success of the Clean India mission has benefited women the most, as in rural areas women had to wait for it to get dark to venture to the fields to relieve themselves. “For mothers and sisters, not having a toilet at home is the biggest difficulty, it also goes against their self-respect,” the PM said.
He said lack of toilets in schools would force girls to give up their studies and sit at home. He said the Clean India Mission has also helped save thousands of lives, and cited a WHO report that said building toilets in homes helped save 300,000 lives. He cited a UNICEF study that said that every family with a toilet will be able to save Rs 50,000 a year, while a Bill and Melinda Gates report said that increase in sanitation has improved the BMI of women.
“I recall that Mahatma Gandhi said he believes that cleanliness is more important that independence. I am very happy that the dream of Mahatma Gandhi of cleanliness is going to become a reality.”
He said the main objective of the UN is to make peoples’ lives better and the Clean India Campaign plays an important role in achieving the UN goal. He said that the construction of so many toilets had also generated employment opportunities for poor people in rural areas.
“Our government has tried to change governance to cooperative federalism in the way different states have taken part in the campaign, through creating awareness, constructing toilets, through training. The states were given full assistance to fulfil the resolution,” he said.
Modi said that states now compete among themselves to rank higher in a cleanliness survey competitions. Modi said that India is ready to share its experiences with other countries.
“India is very close to achieving its goals, we are working at a fast pace. Through Fit India movement for preventive healthcare, and we have made 2025 the target to make India Tuberculosis free. We are making fast progress in the National Nutrition Mission, and will be able to overcome malnutrition. The Jal Jeevan Mission has been launched to provide regular supply of clean water to every home. We have also decided to stop single use plastic by 2022,” said Modi.
“I have complete faith in 1.3 billion Indians,” he said. He was conferred the award by Bill Gates at an event on the sidelines of the UNGA.