It’s a tale of two cities with contrasting ground realities: Mysore in Karnataka that has been adjudged the cleanest city in the country by a survey of the Union Urban Development ministry, and Damoh in Madhya Pradesh, which has been declared the dirtiest.
So what does Mysore do that Damoh doesn’t?
For one, Mysore processes 220 of the 410 tonnes of solid waste it generates daily. The city, in fact, plans to start selling the recycled waste under the brand name Mysuru Gold early next year, says M V Sudha, the public relations officer of the Mysore City Corporation.
It also has a new sewage treatment plant that has the capacity to treat 150 million litres per day (MLD) while the city produces only 120 MLD.
Some locals point out that the ‘city of palaces’ was always ‘swachh’. The country’s first underground drainage system was after all laid in Mysuru in 1902 by the then-monarch Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, who laid special emphasis on sanitation and waste management.
However, Mysore’s clean façade hides the sordid practice of manual scavenging that is still rampant. Though the city boasts of a fleet of modern truck-mounted vacuum cleaners, scavengers are still employed to clean up clogged septic tanks with their bare hands.
Historians like Nanjaraje Urs also questions Mysore’s new-found status as the cleanest city. “Only the areas with hotels, palaces, parks and museums are kept clean,” he says. The state of slums and lower-income neighbourhoods are as bad as any other in the country.
Residents of Damoh, on the contrary, are unanimous that their city stinks.
The city does not have a sewerage system and there is no arrangement for solid waste management. Even public places like bus stands are filthy. Open drains are part of life in much of Damoh, posing a threat to the life and limbs of its residents. Three women riding an autorickshaw were injured after they fell into a drain recently.
Scanty rainfall this season actually has come as a relief for the beleaguered residents of Damoh.
We are happy that we didn’t face much trouble this rainy season due to scanty rainfall. Otherwise, it’s difficult to live in the houses due to the overflowing drains,” points out Laxmi Rani, a resident.
The city of 1.70 lakh people located about 250 km from the state capital Bhopal is literally groaning under the weight of untreated wastes. “We don’t have any other option. Otherwise it is impossible to live in this city,” bemoans Bhaiya Pathan, a shop owner. Even animal carcasses are left to rot at public places. “Due to the pungent smell of dead pigs and dogs, no one can stand in the market for a minute, but we have to run our business in such a pathetic situation,” he adds.
(With inputs from Sudipto Mondal in Bengaluru and Shruti Tomar in Damoh)