Swachh Bharat’s success lies in trusting the town councils | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Swachh Bharat’s success lies in trusting the town councils

Six towns in Maharashtra have shown that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan can be a success with political commitment.

analysis Updated: Dec 09, 2015 22:21 IST
The key to ensuring that Swachh Bharat is a success is in building trust in the capabilities of town councils to deliver sanitation services, especially in more deprived areas.
The key to ensuring that Swachh Bharat is a success is in building trust in the capabilities of town councils to deliver sanitation services, especially in more deprived areas.

The key to the success of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is building trust in the willingness of the town councils to deliver sanitation services, especially in poorer areas. This was the finding of a survey done recently of efforts by smaller towns to clean themselves up. When town councils took the initiative to keep the city clean, people joined in eagerly.

The evaluation committee included officials and the NGO Stree Mukti Sanghatana. The report found that six small towns in Maharashtra were successful in Mission Clean up: Vengurla, Lonavala, Shirur, Sangola, Umred and Deolali Pravara.

The common feature about these towns was that elected leaders made a decision to de-politicise cleanliness services. After that they made efforts to build trust in their ability to deliver. How did they do so? First by maintaining complete transparency in working and informing people what they were going to do. Bidding procedures were open and fair.

Contractors were told that they would be paid only for the work actually done. And then people’s help was solicited by asking volunteers to randomly verify on a daily basis whether their area was cleaned. So institutional mechanisms were put in place to secure resident feedback while settling bills.

Then the councils set up accountability systems. Waste collection vehicles were monitored through GPS devices. Biometric attendance systems for employees were set up. A toll-free number was introduced for complaints. Nodal officers were designated to respond to complaints within 24 hours. Secondly, these councils made special efforts to clean up poorer areas. Poor colonies have narrow lanes and karmacharis are reluctant to go into those lanes to clean. But these councils made the effort and the dividends were enormous.

Segregating waste at source, i.e. at the level of the household, is the holy grail of solid waste management. It is common to hear that this simply can’t be done. Yet all six towns have started segregating waste. Once it was clear that the council meant business, support came in unexpected forms. In one town, there were poor tribal families who kept pigs that wandered all over town.

The families agreed to use waste from hotels for feeding pigs — and stray pigs ceased to be a nuisance. In another town, safai karmacharis were paid pending arrears and were supplied protective gloves and gumboots after which they agreed to work double shifts. Public toilets were repaired and usage went up five times. Residents said there were no epidemics in the towns.

These councils did not require extra funds to clean up their towns, merely a commitment from the political leadership. While building roads and water supply systems are tangible goods, cleanliness seems to be an intangible good. Yet, where people wish to, they can clean up their cities. For many months now all we have heard are exhortations to people to be clean.

The trouble is that if there is a heap of rubbish lying in front of a house, no one is likely to respond to exhortations. Cleaning that rubbish is the responsibility of the town council. For a social norm to evolve that says “Do Not Litter”, we need to see a city that mostly remains clean so that the litter becomes an eyesore. This is something only local governments can achieve.

(Meeta Rajivlochan is principal secretary, Government of Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal)

Read More:

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Swachh Bharat Abhiyan then and now: Has India become cleaner?

One year on, PM Modi’s Swachh Bharat drive fails to leave a mark