Taking the central government's ambitious cleanliness drive to a higher trajectory, President Ram Nath Kovind today kicked off the fortnight-long 'Swachhta Hi Seva' (Cleanliness is Service) campaign from Uttar Pradesh.
The campaign, aimed at highlighting the Narendra Modi government's flagship cleanliness initiative 'Swachh Bharat Mission', was launched from Ishwari Ganj village near here.
The president also honoured the village-level champions who contributed in making Ishwariganj village open defecation free.
Before launching the campaign, Kovind made people take a pledge to keep their surroundings clean.
"India is fighting a decisive battle for cleanliness and hygiene. Cleanliness is not only the responsibility of sanitation personnel and government departments, it is a multi-stakeholder movement.
"Together we should make the effort to clean our houses, public places, villages and cities. Achieving the goals of the Swachh Bharat Mission expeditiously will be an appropriate tribute to Mahatma Gandhi," he said.
The president said every person in the society was "rashtra nirmata" (nation builder) and invited NCC cadet Manish Dwivedi, who belongs to Kanpur, to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
"The responsibility shown by people of Ishwariganj village to make their village open defecation free is laudable. I hope others will take a cue from this village," he said.
"We should make united efforts for cleanliness. It is not only the responsibility of the sanitation staff but all of us. Ensuring cleanliness will be the true tribute to Mahatma Gandhi," he said, adding diseases, including mental illness, can happen due to unclean atmosphere.
Kovind also had a word of praise for those women who refused to marry into homes without any toilets. He also appreciated actors Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar for their support to the cause.
Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik said it was more important for a household to have a toilet than a place of worship.
"Even if you do not have 'devghar' (place of worship), you must have toilets," he said.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath thanked the president for launching the campaign in his home state.
"The UP government has been associated with the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and has constructed 10 lakh toilets so far. The target is to construct 78 lakh toilets by December 31, 2017 and make the state open defecation free (ODF) by October, 2018. I have written a letter to all the village heads for their support in this regard," he said.
The chief minister said four districts - Shamli, Bijnor, Hapur and Ghaziabad - had been made open defecation free, while by December 31, 2017, 30 districts would be brought under the ODF category, and by October next year, all the 75 districts in the state will become open defecation free.
"We have made an anti-land mafia task force and the land freed thus will be utilised for construction of houses for poor," he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Union Drinking Water Sanitation Minister Uma Bharti noted the the main idea behind the campaign was to fulfil Mahatma Gandhi's dream of clean India as well as meet the prime minister's target of making the entire country open defecation free by 2019.
"The government is confident of fulfilling the prime minister's vision of making India open defecation free by October, 2019," she said.
The sanitation initiative, which is being coordinated by the ministry of drinking water and sanitation, will include 'Shramdaan' or voluntary work.
The nationwide campaign will see mobilisation of people from all walks of life, including the prime minister, Union ministers, CMs, MPs and NGOs to undertake 'shramdaan' (labour) for cleanliness and construction of toilets and make their surroundings open defecation free.
It will also target cleaning of public and tourist places too.
The ministry has made elaborate plans along with the state government to reach out to the poor and marginalised, and provide them with sustainable sanitation services.
The government has identified special dates during the campaign period. For instance, September 17 has been reserved for cleanliness and construction of toilets.
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu is scheduled to visit a village in Karnataka on September 17 and offer 'shramdaan' for toilet construction and general cleanliness.
On September 24, citizens at panchayat and municipal levels will take up voluntary work. On September 25, cleaning of public places, bus stands, hospitals will be done. A special cleanliness drive is planned for 15 places on October 1.
The national television network Doordarshan will hold the world premiere of 'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' film on September 17, birth date of Modi.
On October 2, Gandhi Jayanti, which is also the Swachh Bharat Diwas, essay, short film and painting competitions will be held.