Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former President Ram Nath Kovind | File photo: ANI
New Delhi: Former president Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday said barring Narendra Modi, who spoke about building toilets from the ramparts of the Red Fort, no other prime minister had laid stress on the subject.
Kovind was speaking at the National Conference on Sociology of Sanitation where Modi's message was also read out.
The prime minister's message said: "Making people aware of the transformational outcomes of sanitation and cleanliness will also help in preparing domain-specific professionals and generate more opportunities for employment and self-employment."
Speaking at the event, Kovind recalled the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who had always prioritised cleanliness.
"Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi used to say cleanliness is next to godliness. Just like when the heart is not pure, one cannot gain god's blessings, in the same way, if our body is not clean, we cannot gain god's blessings.
"How can one's body be clean when one is staying in an unclean place?" he asked.
The former president lauded Modi's nationwide campaign for building toilets and igniting the mind of the masses towards sanitation.
"Gandhiji had this belief that more than independence, cleanliness is necessary. At one point, he was asked that he was involved in the missions for independence and cleanliness, but if he had to prioritise one, which one would he choose? He had said the country will eventually become independent, but the focus on cleanliness should be given from today itself because it is in our hands.
"After that, if someone has understood the importance of cleanliness, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has been highlighted several times that he is the first prime minister to talk about building toilets from the ramparts of the Red Fort. No prime minister has spoken about it. Some people also made fun of it, saying now, the prime minister has only this job to do," Kovind said.
The three-day national conference that began on Sunday is being attended by vice-chancellors and professors from different universities. The conference is being organised by the Sulabh International School of Action Sociology, a sister institution of the Delhi-based Sulabh International.
At the conference, Kovind urged academicians to formulate strategies to promote issues relating to sanitation and its studies, while describing the study of sanitation as a tool of social change.
He also praised the efforts of Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International, for his role in the fields of sanitation and social services.
Kovind appreciated Pathak's campaign for the uplift of the downtrodden sections of the society by eradicating manual scavenging from the country.
The prime minister wished the conference a grand success.
In his message, Modi said, "The holistic efforts of Sulabh International in furthering cleanliness, providing access to safe sanitation, promoting health and hygiene by building toilets, establishing biogas plants and building model villages are exemplary. It is in this context that this conference assumes a special significance, since it is being spearheaded by an organisation with a track record of working in this domain."
Addressing the conference, former chief justice of India Tirath Singh Thakur called upon scholars to give an extra push to the study of the sociology of sanitation in universities.
Praising the efforts of Sulabh International, he said it is the only organisation that has never come in the bad books of the judiciary or others over incidents of fraud.
"They are solid on their principles. There are nine gems of the Indian government. There are nine government companies that are in profit and these are the nine gems. But in the NGO sector, there is only one gem and that is Sulabh," Thakur said.
He also made a pitch for awarding the country's highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, to Pathak.
"Bindeshwar Pathak is a Gandhian and a self-effacing personality. He has been awarded Padma Bhushan. But for his achievements, doesn't he deserve Bharat Ratna? Padma Bhushan is not enough," the former CJI said.