At a time when terms such as ‘Swachh Bharat’ and ‘smart cities’ are entering the lexicon of what our cities should aspire to, a new report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India shows how different, and dismal, the reality is.
The CAG audited 36 municipal councils across India’s most urbanised state – those of cities with populations ranging from 15,000 to three lakh. These include Panvel, Sawantwadi, Ratnagiri, Gondia, Osmanabad, Pandharpur, Uran and Lonavla, among others. It found that their conditions are uniformly pitiful, with many lacking basic amenities such as drinking water, adequate toilets and efficient waste and sewage collection. Most, in fact, have no sewage system whatsoever, and no proper way of disposing their waste. None of the 36 cities could even ensure that each house in it has access to a toilet – private or community.
Released a month after the launch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Smart Cities’ mission, the report shows just how far the 36 places have to go to be called cities, let alone smart. None of them have achieved any of standards set by the central government in 2008 for all cities. The audit assessed the cities’ drinking water supplies, their sanitation, waste collection, and sewage collection and treatment facilities, and found alarming deficiencies in every one of them.
For instance, while the Centre mandates that every person must get at least 135 litres of water a day, none of the 36 cities can meet such a demand; most can provide only between 29 and 69 litres a day, the report found.
The story was just as dismal when it came to waste collection. None of the cities has any way to dispose its waste in a scientific, hygienic way, and instead dump it in landfills, on roadsides and even near water bodies. None of them was able to enforce the segregation of dry and wet waste.
As for toilets and sanitation, none of the 36 cities has been able to ensure that each house has access to either a private or a community toilet. Thirty-two of them have no sewage system at all, which means that all of their sewage flows into drains and rivers, untreated.