Play with the Swachh Bharat rankings and make your city “cleaner”

The government’s rankings of the cleanest cities in the country, released last week as part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, had some surprising outcomes. “Is Varanasi really cleaner than Bhubaneswar?” my editor asked in an article earlier this week. Others have asked some version of the same question: How were these rankings produced? And is the methodology sound?

The rankings consider three broad categories of data: documentation provided by civic authorities, feedback from citizens, and independent ground assessments. Intuitively, one might think that the ground assessments — which involve unbiased people observing how clean the city actually is — would be the most important source of data. But the way the Ministry of Urban Development calculated the rankings, ground assessments are the least important.

Instead, 45% of the ranking comes from documentation provided by the cities, 30% comes from citizen feedback, and the remaining 25% is derived from the ground assessments. What if these categories were weighted differently? We’ve built a tool that lets you find out. Adjust the weights of the three categories below, and see how the rankings change.

Use the white handles to adjust the weights.
Ground assessment
Citizen feedback
Or, use these buttons.
Documentation only
Ground assessment only
Citizen feedback only
All three are equal
View chart
CityYour rankGov't rankChange in rank

Each dot represents a city or civic authority. Hover over a dot for details.

Scores get higher with your weights or lower with your weights.

So what if we scrap the documentation and citizen feedback, instead relying entirely on the ground assessment? Bhopal rises to the top of the list, while Indore falls to 11th. Varanasi actually improves, rising from 32nd to 28th, while Bhubaneswar improves from 94th to 70th, still far behind.

If we only consider citizen feedback, Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, rises from 136th to the top of the charts. Apparently, Neemuch’s citizens think their city is very clean, even if the government and independent assessors disagree. And if only documentation matters, Chandigarh becomes the country’s cleanest city, rising from its former rank of 11th.

Why did the government choose to weight documentation so heavily? “In initial years, you have to push municipalities to do work,” said Quality Council of India’s Anay Agarwal, who directed the survey project. “Even if results are not visible on the ground, they have to be awarded — in terms of higher ranking — for starting the work.“

In other words, by weighting the rankings as it does, the government wants to encourage cities to demonstrate an institutional commitment to staying clean. By this thinking, cities that provide documentation of their clean-up efforts demonstrate a commitment to the process, even if the results have yet to show up on the ground.

Samarth Bansal contributed to this article.