With the first anniversary of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) fast approaching on October 2 this year, a prelimiry report card of sorts is out. The rankings of 476 cities spread across 31 states and union territories have been announced. Only Gangtok from the Northeast figures among the top ten cleanest cities, ranking tenth in the list. However, if the list is extended to the top 100 clean cities, it contains seven cities from the NE region. Only 15 out of 27 state capitals figure in the top 100 cities, which does not reflect well upon the 12 states that missed out. Of these 15 relatively clean state capitals, those from the Northeast are Gangtok (overall rank 10), Agartala (32), Aizawl (35), Guwahati (51), Dimapur (76) and Imphal (83). Commissioned by the ministry of Urban Development, the extensive survey will assign fil rankings based on several parameters including extent of open defecation, solid waste magement, septage magement, waste water treatment, drinking water quality, surface water quality of water bodies and mortality due to water-borne diseases. Of these, only open defecation and solid waste magement parameters have been taken into account in announcing the first set of rankings.
It is clear therefore that state capitals and class I cities from the NE region will have to perform better in the other parameters as well when the overall rankings will be calculated. These rankings are to help cities lagging behind so that their administrations can undertake necessary interventions to meet SBA targets. As of now, Mysore has been recognised as the cleanest city in the country, while Bengaluru is the cleanest state capital. On the other hand, Damoh in Madhya Pradesh and Pat have been ranked as the filthiest city and state capital respectively. Within ten months of this massive campaign, around Rs 100 have been spent on advertisements, as revealed through an RTI inquiry recently. The SBA has been projected as a pet project of Prime Minister rendra Modi, who announced it from the ramparts of the Red Fort in his maiden Independence Day speech last year. An offended Congress has demanded credit, claiming SBA to be a continuation of its Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, though it too was the remed avatar of the earlier Total Sanitation Campaign. The real challenge is not just cleaning up India, a gargantuan task surely, but in bringing about a sea change in people’s mindset to keep public places clean.
With the 2011 census showing that 60% of the population still defecate in the open, the government is speeding up toilet construction in rural and urban areas. It has targeted nearly 11 crore toilets to cover almost every Indian household by 2019, spending an estimated Rs 2 lakh crore in the process. The corporate sector is pitching in enthusiastically, but there are misgivings that only traditiol brick-and-mortar toilets are being built in large numbers to show instant results. Newer technology in the form of self-sufficient bio-toilets or solar powered electronic toilets are being largely ignored. Sanitation experts have pointed out that simply building toilets will not make towns and villages clean — it must be accompanied with proper sanitation practices and waste magement. Individual toilets must be maintained well by households, while municipalities and panchayats will have to figure out sustaible technologies and mechanisms to collect and treat waste. The Modi government is hoping the SBA will become a people’s movement soon, that an initial awareness about the desirability of a ‘Clean India’ has been created through its publicity blitz. But it will be a long haul to transform that awareness into needed behavioural changes, and filly to a pride that Indians deserve to live in a clean and healthy country.