The Centre on Monday came out with a laundry list of the country’s cleanest and dirtiest cities as part of its Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Mysuru topped the ‘name-and-shame’ rankings, which includes 73 cities, followed by Chandigarh, Tiruchirappalli and New Delhi. City administrations were marked for the way they manage solid waste, the number of toilets built and the success of their sanitation strategy, and how well they have communicated it to the public. This is a commendable exercise and one of the best ways of profiting from this would be to use the SBM platform to ‘crowd share’ the best practices of the top city administrations. This is important because state governments tend to work in silos and effective ideas are appreciated at various meetings but are not always quickly replicated by other cities. Take, for example, Surat. It did a great job in cleaning up after the plague but not many cities seem to have learnt from it. This is not to say that what worked in Mysuru will work in Kolkata, but instead of starting from scratch, cities can benefit from each other’s experiences. One big takeaway from Mysuru is the way they implemented the rules: The civic administration imposed penalties on violators, both in cash and kind. While cash penalties were imposed on those found defecating in the open, the civic administration refused to pick up waste from homes that did not segregate it at source.
That India has little time when it comes to cleaning up is a no-brainer. According to Census 2011, India’s urban population is 377 million or 31% of the total population. These numbers are expected to increase to 600 million by 2031. The Census 2011 also showed that in 4,041 statutory towns, close to eight million households do not have access to toilets and 7.9 million defecate in the open. Weak sanitation and untreated sewage have huge health impacts and if the government cannot fix this problem, it will miss several health and related targets that India is obligated to meet under the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
To achieve what the Centre has set out to do under the SBM, public support is crucial. The government can build toilets, put up waste-to-energy plants and clean up roads. But no amount of State intervention can work unless the citizens realise that it is meant for their benefit, and join forces. For Clean India, citizens must be ready to get their hands dirty.