India is still trying to clean up its act and get its people to stop defecating in the open. This is also a challenge for Pakistan and other south Asian countries. In 2014, India launched its Clean India Mission programme known as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) in an attempt to get things moving.
Before 2014 there was a similar initiative, the Total Sanitation Campaign and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, by the Congress-led government but less money was set aside for it. The prime minister had selected celebrities (Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Vidya Balan, SRK) to campaign as well.
After launching Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014, the Government of India incentivised it with an annual award of the Swachh City (Cleanest City) for which it does a countrywide survey called Swachh Survekshan (Cleanliness Survey). The result: people and cities are competing with each other to win the title. Several Indian cities and towns are even holding inter-ward competitions.
This year, Indore in Madhya Pradesh was declared the cleanest city in India and Gonda in Uttar Pradesh the filthiest
Cleanliness Survey 2017
This year, Indore in Madhya Pradesh was declared the cleanest city in India and Gonda in Uttar Pradesh the filthiest. The annual list was issued on May 4 by the Ministry of Urban Development. (It is vetted by the Quality Council of India).
Out of the 10 cleanest cities in the 2017 survey, two are from Madhya Pradesh (Indore and Bhopal). Out of the 10 filthiest cities, Uttar Pradesh had five cities, two each were from Bihar and Punjab, and one from Maharashtra. A total of 118 out of 500 cities were found to be Open Defecation Free. And 297 cities had 100% door-to-door collection of garbage, 3.7 million citizens showed interest in the survey. There were 404 cities in which at least 75% of residential areas were found substantially clean. Gujarat had 12 cities in the top 50 cleanest, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 11 and Andhra Pradesh with eight. Four of the dirtiest cities were in Uttar Pradesh.
Indore, cleanest city in India
I recently visited Indore with a team of officers from the Jammu & Kashmir government to see how the Indore Municipal Corporation was doing it so we could replicate the best practices in Srinagar and Jammu cities. We visited neighbourhoods to see how they were collecting and separating waste with the mayor and top officials.
Some friends and I went to Indore’s famous Sarafa Bazar food street at midnight. The gold market closes by 9pm after which it turns into a food street until 2am. I thought it would have been full of trash, plastic bottles, disposable plates but was astonished to see it clean. There was a marked difference from my last visit in March 2016. Within 18 months the Indore Municipal Corporation had revolutionized its sanitation system and changed the behaviour of shopkeepers, restaurant owners, tea stalls, dhaba walas and people. And now that Indore has been declared India’s cleanest city its people want to protect this honour and are aiming for the same title for the 2018 that starts January 1.
Indore has 2 million people who generate nearly 50,000kg of municipal solid waste every day. Out of this, 13,000kg is plastic waste, non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle. Until a year back, the city used to dispose off 80% of the plastic waste by burning it which led to pollution. Only up to 20% was recycled after being segregated by ragpickers. Till a year back, Indore was choking in smog.
Within 18 months the Indore Municipal Corporation had revolutionized its sanitation system and changed the behaviour of shopkeepers, restaurant owners, tea stalls, dhaba walas and people
In January 2017, Indore Municipal Corporation set up a plastic collection centre to reuse and recycle the city’s plastic waste. It was run by the private Social Enterprise BASIX. Polythene cakes made under high temperatures in a Gutta machine are recycled as agriculture pipes or plastic ropes. By April, the pollution control board declared that levels in Indore had drastically fallen from 140 microgram per cubic-metre to 80 within four months (safety limit is 60).
For the biodegradable waste the municipal corporation, BASIX and some more NGOs started door-to-door segregated collection. All households, shops, restaurants were given two trash bins. This segregated waste is carried to a scientific landfill by specially designed vehicles with two partitions. The waste is used to make compost that is then sold to farmers.
Indore to Kashmir
I have been writing on the environment for a while and in 2015 I met the founder of BASIX Social Enterprise Group, Vijay Mahajan, in New Delhi at a climate change conference. BASIX works on microfinance, financial inclusion, waste management which is why I asked him to help Kashmiris with waste management. Within a few months BASIX recruited a team of five Kashmiri boys who were sent to Indore in February 2016 to train.
When the team returned, it started pilot work in the small town of Budgam on Srinagar’s outskirts where the municipal committee provided logistical support and manpower. (Talks in Srinagar itself failed, despite optimism from the CM as there wasn’t enough support from the Srinagar Municipal Corporation.)
It was during the 2016 summer unrest in the Kashmir valley that we set up the compost plant in Budgam. By November we began motivating people to start separating their paper, plastic and organic. Imams and community leaders helped. Arasta Foundation provided more than 700 trash bins and within four months we were able to ensure 80% waste was collected from five municipal wards. Earlier on people in five Budgram wards used to dump their garbage in open plots or by the roadside; twice or once in a week a municipal vehicle would come and take away the garbage.
The kitchen waste was taken to a compost unit and within a few months we got high quality compost. The sample was tested at the Government Horticulture Laboratory in Srinagar and the results were beyond our expectations. People, especially women and municipal sweepers, appreciated the work. The pilot ended in three months but restarted in March and wrapped up in June. Full-fledged work has yet to begin because of a shortage of vehicles.
After the Budgram success, the government plans to expand to other J&K towns and cities. Srinagar city alone generates more than 400 metric tons of solid waste and not even 5% of it is treated. Dal Lake, the Jhelum river and all tourist spots are under threat.
Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Srinagar-based writer and activist associated with BASIX Social Enterprise Group email@example.com