Swachh Bharat Survekshan: The story behind Surat’s consistent success

Plague struck Surat in 1994, and it rendered the city sick, miserable, and almost helpless. (Image By Indian Express)

By Yuvraj Pokharna 

Surat has once again retained its position as India’s second cleanest city in the Swachh Bharat Survekshan. It is one of the six 5 star garbage-free cities. It is the first Urban Local Body (ULB) to introduce 100% door-to-door solid waste collection coverage, and it collects over 2200 MT of waste. In fact, the waste collected is used to generate power for the city.

Also, it is the first Urban Local Department (ULD) to have its TTP (Tertiary Treatment Plant), and it commands a capacity of 115 MLD with 10% additional capacity available on demand. It has been winning the title of the best performing city in the direction of implementing Smart City projects for the last three years. It is also known as the diamond city and Manchester of India.

And we can further stretch the list, but have you ever wondered what the story behind Surat’s all-star track record is? When we look at the past, Surat hasn’t been this clean, pioneer type of city. It was one of the fastest-growing cities of Gujarat during the ’90s, and it was getting quite untidy due to rampant industrialization.

Especially the wastage from the chemical industry combined with open sewers, open defecation, and littering made the living condition quite appalling at one point in time. So much so that plague struck Surat in 1994, and it rendered the city sick, miserable, and almost helpless. The system crumbled, and various humanitarian organizations came to its rescue.

This was indeed a dark chapter in the vibrant city’s history, but it played its role quite well. Within a period of eight months, it positioned itself as India’s second cleanest city in the country. This transformation was largely possible due to Surat Municipal corporation and the people of the city, both contributing enormously to the growth of the city.

S.R. Rao, the then-municipal commissioner, is credited with this transition, which included a raft of measures, including cracking down on corruption and bureaucratic apathy.

He devised the six by six by six’ scheme to boost efficiency. The city was divided into six divisions, with each division’s director of planning having the authority to make decisions similar to those of a municipal commissioner.

Surat was soon altered as unlawful structures were demolished without regard for the contractors’ political clout. Drains were covered, pay-per-use toilets were installed in slums and markets, and fines were imposed for noncompliance.

Those who were caught ignoring their responsibilities were asked to resign. Disciplinary action was taken against 1,200 employees of the firm, ranging from sweepers to senior executives.

“I had to receive the resignations of several officers over a cup of tea, which was really unpleasant.” And I’m still not persuaded that we’ve completely eradicated corruption,” Rao was cited in a 1996 story as stating.

The most noticeable improvement was the return of citizens who had abandoned the city a year before. “Even hawkers kept their places clean,” said one resident.

Coming to the present day, Surat has maintained its momentum.

Indore kept the top spot for the fifth straight year, earning 5,618.14 points out of a possible 6,000 points, while Surat earned 5,559.21 points. Both cities were able to maintain their results from the previous year.

On the other hand, Surat received 2,238.06 points out of a possible 2400 points in the SLP (Service Level Progress) category, while Indore received 2313.38 points. Surat received 1721.16 out of 1800 points in the Citizen Voice category, while Indore received 1704.76 points. Surat and Indore each received 1600 points out of a possible 1800 points in the Certification category.

Indore has a population of 31 lakh people, but Ahmedabad has a population of over 65 lakh.

The vast difference in population and the fact that despite Indore scoring a little lesser points this time (while successfully securing the first position,) Surat has consistently improved.

The Surat Municipal Corporation is at the forefront of development activities in the city, and I must say it’s a challenging as well as satisfying experience to be associated with the city’s transformation.” says the commissioner of Surat Shri M. K Das.

“We are pleased to have maintained our ranking as the second cleanest city in the country. Surat is an industrial city in Gujarat and serves as the state’s economic capital. We have more than twice the population of the city of Indore. We are on par with or even ahead of Indore in a number of indices, but we fell short in the SLP sector.”

“We will concentrate our efforts on the SLP sector and aspire to obtain the first place within the next year,” said Paresh Patel, head of the Surat municipal standing committee.

Though Surat has maintained its spot tight in a row, but overall marks have augmented. On their plans for Swachh Survekshan 2022, SMC Commissioner Banchhanidhi Pani, IAS said, “Cleanness has become jan andolan now. Safai kaamdaars are in the heart of our cleanliness drive. SMC will focus more on innovation and best practices by using technology and new ideas.”

“We owe our success entirely to the administrative wing of SMC, as well as the elected wing and the public who rallied around us. As a result, we must sustain what has been accomplished, while also focusing on the areas where we have fallen short,” Mayor Boghawala stated.

When we look at its journey and the attitude of its citizens, municipality alongside the results, it is clear that such transformation is possible only when every stakeholder assumes their respective responsibilities with a credible leadership to support the entire ecosystem.

(The author is a Surat-based Educationist, Columnist and Social Activist. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online. )

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