When Union urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu released the Swachh Survekshan 2017, ranking 434 Indian cities on cleanliness and sanitation, last week, Punjab was in for a shock. There was not a single city from the state among the top 100. But neither the state administrators nor the people can put the blame on anyone else.
A close look at the exhaustive data gathered by the ministry after a survey involving self-declaration, on-site inspection and citizen feedback shows serious shortcomings in solid waste collection, processing and disposal, steps taken to curb open defecation and inadequate capacity building efforts to be the prime reasons behind the sloppy showing by the 16 cities of the state covered in the exercise.
The third nationwide survey, conducted by the urban development ministry, relied heavily on self-declaration by municipal bodies, with solid waste management – solid waste collection, transportation, processing and disposal – being the most important parameter for the rankings. And, that’s where the state slipped.
Barring a few cities like Amritsar, Bathinda, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and SAS Nagar, all other performed abysmally. Bathinda, which saw a huge flow of funds during the previous Akali regime being the political turf of the Badal clan, did well in solid waste collection and transportation; even coming close to Indore, ranked No. 1 in the country, in the specific score.
The city, which was ranked 132, did not do as well in solid waste processing and disposal. Jalandhar, Ferozepur, Pathankot and Hoshiarpur faced a similar problem. Only five cities managed to get scores better than the national average. But it’s cities such as Patiala, Muktsar, Khanna, Batala and Abohar that have pushed Punjab among the laggard states in the ‘swacchta’ (cleanliness) campaign.
Ambitious targets, poor showing
Another serious area of concern for the state is open defecation and inadequate number of toilets despite the ambitious targets set by both the Centre and the state. All cities, except Jalandhar and Bathinda in that order, have fared extremely badly with a number of them drawing a blank due to their failure to impress the Centre or submit enough data about their efforts to check open defecation and improve the availability of toilets.
The capacity building efforts of most cities did not generate much confidence either. Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Bathinda did well on this count, though. However, a local government official said he was still to look at the segregated data of the survey and would have to study it before making any observations. “The department has an elaborate solid waste management plan. There have been issues, but efforts are being made to sort things out,” he said.
After the survey findings came out, local bodies and tourism minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who took over the charge six weeks ago, had blamed the previous Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government for the state’s poor showing, promising a uniform policy and quick action to tackle the problem of solid waste management in the state.