New York: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was honoured with the prestigious “Global Goalkeeper” award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, has said that the cleanliness campaign played a critical role in helping achieve the United Nations’ goals and targets. “Getting the award in the year of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is personally significant for me. When 130 crore people take a pledge, any challenge can be overcome,” the prime minister said as he accepted the award at a special ceremony here Tuesday night. Also Read – India gets first tranche of Swiss account details under automatic exchange framework Speaking on the occasion, Modi noted that the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission is above and beyond any statistics. The campaign has not only improved the lives of crores of Indians, but it has also played a significant role in achieving the goals set by the UN,” Modi said. Modi lauded the countrymen for contributing to the grand success of the cleanliness mission, saying he shared the honour with them. He dedicated the award to those Indians who transformed the Swachh Bharat campaign into a “people’s movement” and accorded topmost priority to cleanliness in their day-to-day lives. Also Read – Trio win Nobel Medicine Prize for work on cells, oxygen “No such campaign was seen or heard about in any other country in the recent past. It might have been launched by our government, but people took control of it,” Modi said. As a result, over 11 crore toilets were built in the country in the last five years, which was a record, he said. The Prime Minister said that if the mission has benefited anyone the most, it is the country’s poor and women. “Only that person who does not have a toilet understands its value, especially women, he said, adding that not having a toilet was among their most tough problems. He said that many young girls had to give up education due to lack of toilets in their schools. Our daughters wanted to study but due to lack of toilets they were forced to leave their schools and sit at home, he said. Modi said it was the responsibility of his government to help the girls and women of the country come out of this situation and it had performed the duty with utmost sincerity. Modi also expressed satisfaction that Swachh Bharat Mission is helping save millions of lives. He also met Bill Gates and Melinda Gates after the programme. “PM @narendramodi had a fruitful interaction with @BillGates and @melindagates,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a tweet. During the event, he noted that even a report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said that due to an increase in rural sanitation in india, the rate of heart problems in children has gone down and in women’s Body Mass Index has improved. He recalled Mahatma Gandhi’s message that for him cleanliness was more important than freedom. The Swachh Bharat Mission, which the Narendra Modi government launched on October 2, 2014, aims to accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage in the country by this year as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. So far, 90 million toilets have been built to eliminate open defecation by October 2, 2019 and currently 98 per cent of India’s villages have rural sanitation coverage instead of 38 per cent four years ago. Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had also acknowledged Modi government’s efforts in this regard and said that due to the Swachh Bharat campaign, a possibility was created to save three lakh human lives. Expressing happiness that Gandhi’s dream of cleanliness was about to be fulfilled, he said, “Gandhiji used to say a village could only become a model when it was completely clean. Today we are heading towards making the entire country a model.” One of the least talked about aspects of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was that the 11 crore toilets built under it had opened a new chapter of economic activity in rural India, he said. Stating that the simple meaning of democracy was that people should be at the centre of policies and schemes, the prime minister said for decades, India had witnessed “constitutional federalism”, but it was his government that attempted to change it to “co-operative federalism” and with time, it was now moving towards “competitive-cooperative federalism”. He also voiced satisfaction that there was a race among all the states in India now to bag the top spot in the “cleanliness ranking”. Reiterating the philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the whole world is one single family), Modi said India wanted to share its experience and expertise with other countries. Besides the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, many other “people’s movements” such as “Fit India” to promote fitness and preventive healthcare, the “Jal Jeevan Mission” focussing on water conservation and recycling were going on in India, he said, adding that the country was headed towards getting rid of single-use plastic by 2022.