India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has joined millions of schoolchildren, officials and ordinary people, who have picked up brooms and dustpans in a countrywide campaign to clean parks, public buildings and streets.

Modi swept the road in a poor neighbourhood in the capital, New Delhi, on Thursday while launching the Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan) coinciding with the 145th birth anniversary of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

The prime minister has ordered government officers to work on Gandhi's birthday, a national holiday, to clean ministries - including toilets.

The five-year drive aims to clean public spaces and change India's image as one of the filthiest countries in the world.

Cabinet ministers, police and industry leaders have been clearing files and disposing clutter in their offices all week as part of the campaign which was preceded by a media blitz.

A statement by the federal government on Wednesday said that all government Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) would start the construction of 50,000 toilets in schools all over the country whose completion was scheduled for August 2015. It also said that the work for 1,001 toilets would soon begin in various states.

Costly toilet shortage

Many cities, including New Delhi and Mumbai, are overflowing with garbage, a result of rapid economic growth, overcrowding and poor urban planning, and civic behaviour that rarely condemns littering.

India's shortage of toilets costs the country more than $50bn a year, mostly through premature deaths and hygiene-related diseases, according to a study by the World Bank. India suffers a greater cost than other Asian countries from the inadequate collection of human excreta, the study found.

The order to sweep and clean latrines echoes Gandhi's own insistence that his disciples carry out tasks that in India are traditionally associated with people from lower castes.

During India's campaign for freedom from colonial British rule, Gandhi spoke about the need to improve cleanliness, saying "sanitation was more important than independence".

Since taking office, Modi has repeatedly invoked Gandhi and lamented the poor state of sanitation and public cleanliness in India. He has also vowed to clean the heavily polluted river Ganges in time for Gandhi's 150th anniversary in 2019.

Reacting to Modi's Clean India Mission, the chief of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, Arvind Kejriwal, went on a separate cleanliness spree in 280 areas of New Delhi by cleaning drains and demanded an improvement in the quality of the lives of Indian sweepers.

Source: Reuters And AP