Climate Change / Sustainable Development

How a dedicated bunch transformed Indore into India’s cleanest city

Prem Sharma sells gutka (a combination of betel nuts, tobacco and mouth freshener) and cigarettes near the Vijay Nagar square in Indore, the commercial capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. However, the most visible part of his tiny business is the dustbin that he does not dare to lose. The case is similar with pretty much all the small and big businesses across the city.

Mar 17, 2018
By Manish Gupta
 
Prem Sharma sells gutka (a combination of betel nuts, tobacco and mouth freshener) and cigarettes near the Vijay Nagar square in Indore, the commercial capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. However, the most visible part of his tiny business is the dustbin that he does not dare to lose. The case is similar with pretty much all the small and big businesses across the city.
 
“In Indore, people fear the yellow vehicles more than they fear police vehicles,” Sharma said, referring to the vehicles of the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) that patrol the city round-the-clock and penalise anyone spreading litter on the streets.
 
The penalties for littering the city (population about 2 million) can be anything between INR 100 and INR 1 lakh. The IMC has done well over the last year, collecting spot fines to the tune of INR 1 crore in the city.
 
“It is not just fear. People actually respect the work being done by the IMC,” says Indore Mayor and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Malini Gaur. 
 
It is a fact that Sharma takes great pride in the fact that he is a resident of the city dubbed the “cleanest in India” in a countrywide ‘swachh’ (cleanliness) rating done by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
 
The force behind the stupendous rise of Indore on the ‘Swachh Sarvekshan’ (cleanliness survey) Rankings is the city Mayor Gaur. Indore rose from a low rank of 180 in 2015, to 25 in 2016 and finally to the number one rank among the 434 cities surveyed in 2017.
 
“The day Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call for ‘Swachh Bharat’ (clean India) from the ramparts of the Red Fort during his Independence Day address in 2015, we decided to begin work on his idea," said Gaur, who has another two years to complete her tenure as mayor. 
 
“We are quite confident of retaining the top position in the country in 2018,” she told a group of visiting correspondents. The visit was organised by the BJP’s Good Governance Department for some journalists from Delhi and Karnataka. 
 
With painstaking effort on all fronts, including establishment of an integrated solid waste management system, the city has brought down the Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) in the air from 145 micrograms per unit in 2015 to about 70 mgpu now. The plan is to further reduce this to 40. The safe threshold is 100.
 
Indore has, till now, been visited by representatives of about 250 municipal authorities from all across India to help them learn the mantra required in the transformation. 
 
“It is all because of political and administrative will, and the support of people," says the mayor modestly. 
 
Further inquiry reveals that the Mayor withstood all resistance - from political parties, business lobbies and sanitation workers – to ensure that the laws were applied uniformly to everyone. It also required a conscious decision to keep out private contractors. The job is done entirely by the corporation - from collection and transportation of waste material to treatment and disposal.
 
“Private companies are not in a position to absorb the sudden shock loads, which is common in this work,” said the ‘Swachh Bharat’ Mission consultant to the IMC, Asad Warsi.
 
The IMC engaged with various associations like schools, hospitals, temples and hotels to design a sustainable system that has made Indore perhaps the only city in India that is litter-free, garbage-free and free from stray animals.
 
The city plans to move beyond having one of the best solid waste management and sewage treatment plants. It is looking at a facility to make compost, at extracting methane gas from waste from the wholesale vegetable market to fuel some of the city buses, to making the district open defecation free (ODF), ensuring dry and wet waste segregation at a door-to-door level, and cleaning monuments and footpaths each night.
 
Scientific collection, treatment and disposal of waste has gone a long way in securing Indore’s top position in the country’s cleanliness rankings.
 
Indore has now placed tenders for a sewage sludge hygienisation facility that will kill potentially infectious bacteria in the sludge and make it odour-free through radiation. This facility is due to be in place by 2019, making Indore a poster city for the BJP to advertise its achievements before the parliamentary polls.
 
Rajesh Godale, a Chief Sanitary Inspector (CSI) at IMC, carries his enthusiasm for the job late into the night, taking photographs of mechanised sweeping vehicles and footpath cleaners who are at work around midnight. 
 
Explaining the process, Godale said, “There are four CSIs who go around the city taking photographs of the cleaning process each night. That is then shared on a Whatsapp group as proof. I am sure Indore would be the cleanest city once again.”

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