Swachh Survekshan 2019 rewarding wrong end of waste management?

That is the conclusion of study by Centre for Science and Environment

March 13, 2019 08:51 pm | Updated 08:51 pm IST

Are Swachh Survekshan rankings myopic? A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit public interest research and advocacy group based in New Delhi, did a reality check of cities that secured the top 50 ranks in 2019. It found that the ranking system was skewed towards cities that had only recently adopted various cleanliness measures.

“Swachh Survekshan 2019 has rewarded cities that implemented a cleanliness drive during the two to three months of the survey. Many cities that work all year towards household-level segregation, decentralised recycling and reuse of waste were given poor rankings,” read the report.

The authors of the report went on to add that sweeping waste out of sight is not the answer to the growing problem. “This cannot be the way to incentivise and recognise cities for waste management,” said the CSE.

Swati Singh Sambyal, Programme Manager - Environmental Governance (Waste Management), CSE, said, “Swachh Survekshan rankings have become like an annual affair when cities work to get good ranking for three-four months, and are lax for the rest of the year. Visual cleanliness has become key.”

The study found that only the top three cities – Indore, Ambikapur and Mysuru – had source segregation levels beyond 80%. Nearly half of the 50 cities have segregation levels below 40%.

Some, such as Rajkot, Ranchi, Satara, Ghaziabad and Chandigarh, launched their segregation campaign just a few months before the survey, and have segregation levels below 20%. Jaipur and Sagar have no source segregation practice at all.

CSE recommended that the Survekshan introduce a cut-off criteria where any city that hasn’t started segregation not be rated.

“Sustainable waste processing has been missing from most of the top-rated cities. Ujjain (rank 4), Ahmedabad (6), Ghaziabad (13) still dump bulk of their waste in landfills,” the study finds.

To the contrary, cities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Sikkim and Bihar, including Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram and Panaji, that have invested in decentralised waste processing systems, which are more sustainable and held up as models to be replicated, were ranked below 300.

“This only indicates how myopic the criteria for ranking the cities are,” said Ms. Sambyal.

She also said that a study has found thar nearly half of India's incineration-based Waste-to-Energy plants are defunct or are working below capacity, and many don’t comply with Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, but most cities have proposed and promote WtE plants.

‘Bengaluru is a victim of myopic ranking criteria’

The civic body has blamed the ‘misplaced ranking criteria’ for its low ranking (194) in the Swachh Survekshan 2019.

“The break-up of the 5,000 marks of the Survekshan indicates how myopic the ranking is. We lost a 1,000 marks for a slight delay in declaring the city Open Defecation Free (ODF). The break-up has 500 marks for Swachh Bharat hoardings and advertising. As a policy, we have not put up hoardings, and lost all 500 marks,” said Sarfaraz Khan, Joint Commissioner, Solid Waste Management, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).

He alleged that the Survekshan team, which visited the city, did not inspect any of the best practices Bengaluru has been implementing, such as the leachate treatment plant in Bellahalli quarry, 100% composting apartments, bins and reclaimed quarry pits.

“We have achieved a segregation-at-source level of nearly 40% – collecting around 1,200 TPD of wet waste and around 300 TPD of dry waste of the around 4,000 TPD waste generated in the city,” he said.

The BBMP has from the first year argued that large metropolitan cities, like Bengaluru, cannot be compared with tier 2, 3 and 4 cities. The Survekshan needs to categorise cities based on their population.

Swati Singh Sambyal, Programme Manager - Environmental Governance (Waste Management), CSE, concurred. “Swachh Survekshan 2019 considers 4,237 cities where population varies from one lakh to a couple of crores. The issues that a metro faces are very different to those that a small city, like Ambikapur or Mysuru, faces. They cannot be compared. It is high time the Survekshan categorises cities based on their population,” she said.

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