The Swachh Bharat campaign has been going on since 2 October, 2014, aiming to make the country clean and free of open defecation by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary year of Mahatma Gandhi. The latest cleanliness survey carried out during January and February this year however proves that the Northeast as a whole has much catching up to do. In fact, some cities in the region have slipped in performance, which is a matter of concern. After all, cleanliness as a habit is inbuilt in indigenous cultures here; surely, it shouldn’t be too taxing to motivate people in the Northeast and bring about behavioural changes. But the Swachh Survekshan 2017 results show just one city from this region, Sikkim’s capital Gangtok (ranked 50) among the top 100 clean cities out of 434 cities surveyed. Of the four cities from Assam that figured in the city, Guwahati came in at 134, gaon at 161, Silchar at 280 and Dibrugarh at 297 in the rankings. For Guwahati, aspiring to be a smart city, this should be a wake-up call. The State government needs to ponder how to go about making the ‘gateway to the Northeast’ really clean, rather than losing focus by going about reming its streets and in activities high on symbolism but low in terms of public utility. Will reming major roads in the city after Srimanta Sankardev, Madhabdev, Ajan Fakir, Sukapha and (controversially) Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay make these roads any cleaner and less chaotic? Other NE States figuring in the cleanliness survey this year are Mizoram with Aizawl in 105th rank, Manipur with Imphal (122), Aruchal Pradesh with itagar (216), Meghalaya with Shillong (276), Tripura with Agartala (290), and galand with Kohima (208) and Dimapur (277).
Aizawl has been recognised as the cleanest city in the ‘Fast Moving Big City’ category, while gaon is the cleanest in the ‘Medium City’ category from the NE region. For Shillong, once famed as ‘Scotland of the East’ with its elegant British style architecture and picture postcard beauty, surely this ranking is a big letdown. Meghalaya’s Congress-ruled government is however taking Shillong’s below par ranking ‘with a pinch of salt’, with Urban Affairs Minister RV Lyngdoh pointing out that the survey was “conducted by an agency of the NDA government at the Centre.” He has admitted though that Umkhrah and Umshyrpi flowing through Shillong were once pristine rivers but are now in bad state. In this context, Lyngdoh has spoken about the need for solid and liquid waste magement at locality levels, taking into consideration Shillong’s hilly terrain. It must be appreciated that this cleanliness survey was on a much larger scale than its predecessor Swachh Survekshan 2016 which had covered only 73 cities. In that list, Gangtok was ranked 8th and Imphal 15th with both capital cities among the ‘Leaders’; Agartala was ranked 33rd and figured among the ‘aspiring Leaders’; Aizawl (41), Guwahati (50) and Shillong (53) were clubbed in ‘Acceleration required’ category; while Kohima (60) and Itagar (71) languished among the ‘Slow Movers’. So, things have remained pretty much the same in the two cleanliness surveys for the Northeast region as a whole.
For comparison, Indore from Madhya Pradesh which ranked 25th in the 2016 survey and figured among the ‘Aspiring Leaders’, surged to the top position as India’s cleanest city overall in the 2017 survey. Observers have commended the Indore city administration for working with missiory zeal to elimite open defecation. This came about primarily through intensive public campaign and workshops to change the attitude of citizens towards sanitation and correct handling and disposal of garbage. Panchayats on city outskirts pitched in, hiring contractors to build toilets for families uble to secure bank loans. But let us remember that Swachh Survekshan 2017 was on a much larger scale, using data provided by municipal bodies, while involving citizens’ feedback which made up 30% of the total score, and independent observers (deployed by Quality Council of India) contributing another 25% chunk of the score. Cities were assessed on five parameters: waste collection, solid-waste magement, construction of toilets, sanitation strategies and behaviour change communication. Citizens were asked to grade their cities on cleanliness, respond to sanitation questionires, upload pictures of filthy roads and public places and score urban bodies on completion of works. An important part of citizens’ feedback was the use of ‘Swachhta App’, and on this part, cities from the Northeast reportedly got almost zero scores. On feedback part therefore, residents in NE cities cannot afford to fall short in future surveys, so that they can keep their city administrations on toes in matters of cleanliness.