Other States

Centre to probe ‘irregularities’ in Madhya Pradesh Swachh survey

Data fudged, performance of ULBs overestimated, says complainant.

The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has initiated an inquiry into alleged irregularities during the Swachh Survekshan 2019 for Madhya Pradesh — declared the best in solid waste management, and boasting eight cities in the top 25, the most for any State — that helped upstage certain cities, while downplaying performances of others.

The inquiry is based on a complaint filed by a Gwalior resident with the Prime Minister’s Office in September which alleges fudging of data by urban local bodies (ULBs), overestimation of performance during field surveys by third-party assessors, arbitrary award of ranks despite similar declarations by ULBs and conflict of interest with regard to the role of the Quality Council of India (QCI).

After the complaint was forwarded to the Ministry, Vinod Kumar Jindal, Mission Director, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), on October 9 wrote to R. S. Jayal, Deputy Secretary, SBM Division, stating the case had been “referred for conducting inquiry to the officer concerned with Swachh Survekshan”.

Centre to probe ‘irregularities’ in Madhya Pradesh Swachh survey

Saying complainant Sandeep Sharma had been kept in the loop, Mr. Jindal requested Mr. Jayal to conduct the inquiry at the earliest and send a report to the SBM-2 section.

Report soon

“Letters had been sent to the third-party agencies, which are of repute, seeking their response. A report would be ready in 10-15 days,” said an official of the SBM, requesting anonymity.

Irked that the survey — touted as the world’s largest cleanliness survey — downgraded Gwalior’s performance to a rank of 59 instead of 32 it purportedly deserved, Mr. Sharma has challenged statuses of better placed cities like Singrauli (21), Pithampur (50), Jabalpur (25) and even Indore, the country’s “cleanest”. The survey, whose results were declared in March, was undertaken in four parts worth 1,250 marks each.

ODF+ tag

Though Gwalior, Singrauli and Pithampur had applied for just an open defecation-free (ODF) + certification, the latter two secured an ODF++ tag. This is despite their application and advertisement for just an ODF+ tag in newspapers, according to the complaint and documents perused by The Hindu.

The ODF++ tag, the highest category, is accorded to a ULB if not a single person defecates/urinates in the open, all public toilets are functional and faecal sludge and sewage is treated there. A third-party agency carries out observations at randomised sampled locations to verify claims.

Mr. Sharma contends if a ULB has incomplete sewage work and barely treats faecal sludge and disgorges it in water bodies, conferring on it the ODF ++ tag seems spurious.

Singrauli doesn’t treat its sewage and has a network coverage of 18.8 %, while Pithampur too doesn’t treat its sewage and its network covers just 19% of the area, according to data quoted in the report from the survey and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation website. “This shows the third-party agencies didn’t accurately represent the true picture and overestimated some ULBs,” he said.

A progress report dated May 15, 2019, perused by The Hindu, said Singrauli was still working on its sewage network at a “slow pace”, and had completed only 39.14 km of the targeted 277.36 km to be completed by March 2020.

To assess the ODF claims, the Centre has roped in the QCI. A State government’s letter dated April 26, reveals the QCI had provided ‘technical support’ at the district-level and uploaded data on various SBM portals for the survey.

“The same agency that uploaded data for the State verified it for the Centre. This represents a conflict of interest for the agency,” said Mr. Sharma.

As for star ratings of garbage-free cities, alleges the complaint, Gwalior had secured just a one-star, despite staking a claim to a three-star rating producing the same documents as Singrauli and Pithampur, which had secured it easily.

“The Centre’s mechanism is foolproof. It doesn’t awards marks on its own,” a senior official of the State SBM office told The Hindu. “There is no manual intervention anywhere. Assessors are sent to fields, and all interview recordings are geotagged which helps us ensure they visited the designated spots. Later, the 378 ULBs in the State feed the data on portals.”

If there was a conflict of interest in the case of QCI, he said, it wouldn’t have certified just 22 of the 143 declarations submitted for the ODF+ category. “The QCI has several mandates. Its officials conducted an assessment a month before the survey so that we could work on weaker areas. They helped in collecting data at the grassroots where digital literacy is weak among officials.”

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 11:39:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/government-to-probe-irregularities-in-madhya-pradesh-swachh-survey/article29693849.ece

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