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Swachh Bharat rankings: Why Mumbai bombs badly at this test

analysis Updated: Aug 10, 2015 16:34 IST
Swachh Bharat campaign

Two stories that stood out for me over the weekend. One had to do with where Mumbai ranks in the Swachh Bharat campaign in a survey conducted by the Urban Development ministry, the second about the reported sale of a triplex apartment in the tony area of Nepean Sea Road.

For those who may have missed out, the apartment in question – spread over three floors and 17,000 square feet – has been sold for a record-breaking Rs 202 crore, or approximately Rs 1.20 lakh per square foot. Meanwhile, in the Swachh Bharat survey, Mumbai limps in at 147 out of 476 municipalities in terms of cleanliness.

One can justifiably ask how these two discreet issues are interlinked and I must plead that there is no polemic connection I can make. Yet, where a city’s property prices are sky-high but its degree of cleanliness is rock bottom does tell some story.

There i s some solace for Mumbaikars that arch rival Delhi fares even more dismally, ranking 397. But in this particular context, of cleanliness, to be better among the worst is a pyrrhic victory. It does little credit to a city widely regarded as the urbs prima in India.

The parameters on which the survey is based were minimal open defecation and how solid waste management is handled. Just that. And Mumbai has still bombed.

Indeed, the survey is an indictment of how poorly India’s two major cities have evolved. Delhi is the repository of politic al power, Mumbai the financial capital. These two showcase India to the world, and they don’t make a pretty picture at all.

Top-ranked in the survey is Mysore but it is Navi Mumbai ranked no.3 is that is both a surprise and fascinating. How and why does it outstrip the mother city’s municipality by such a huge margin? What is happening right across the creek that is going wrong in the island city?

Without even an empirical study to go by, I can rely only on personal observations. Clearly a better mapped planned helps. More importantly, a younger, educated, more civic conscious citizenry unafraid to make demands have made the Navi Mumbai municipality less slothful and more accountable.

Mumbai has lagged behind because people have been diffident. It’s not that the city was ever spick and span. In the past half century, I’ve lived in Dhobi Talao, Jacob Circle, Nepean Sea Road, Mahim, Bandra and the nuisance of garbage, badly maintained roads, open urinals etc has always been there.

The sad part, however, is that instead of the situation improving, it has become worse. The city has become bigger, richer, more expensive but not cleaner. While the BMC must take much of the flak for this, it can’t be that the people who live here are blameless.

Cities grow organi-cally, going over several humps and obstacles, before achieving a high `livability quotient’. London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing – almost every major city in the developed world – have risen from wreckage, squalor, etc to what they are today because of enlightened urban planning and constant improvement in quality of life as provoked by people.

As consumption increases, Mumbai (and India) is producing me g atons of more garbage that need to be recycled or destroyed. Alas, the more we consume, the more callous, we have become. Also, as urbanization increases, f acilities like toilets become imperative to avoid the spread of disease, but construction of these has simply not kept pace.

To improve the situation, the municipality and people need to collude. Awareness through education (in schools and community clusters) as well as enforcement of rules through simple punishment (like fines for littering or defecating in public) would go a long, long way.

The Swachh Bharat survey shows us how badly neglectful we are of how we live. A dirty environment not only diminishes a city aesthetically, but can have other serious ill-effects too. Pestilence and disease are non-discriminatory. They are as likely to hit people in a lowly jhuggi as in an apartment that costs a couple of hundred of crores.