In 2015-16 the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had conducted a survey, in which Alappuzha in Kerala came out on top as the cleanest city in the country. Panjim in Goa came second. However, in the recently concluded Swachh Survekshan 2017, the government survey to rank cities on the basis of cleanliness and sanitation, Alappuzha was ranked 380 – among the bottom 100, and the worst among cities in Kerala. Panjim, which has achieved complete segregation and has successfully done without a landfill, was ranked 90.
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The Alappuzha system
Alappuzha, which had a centralised system of waste collection and dumping earlier, shifted to a decentralised model in 2012. The municipality does not collect waste door-to-door anymore.
“There are 18 aerobic composting units across the city, where overall 221 bins are placed to collect wet waste. Adjoining these, bins with six compartments are placed to collect different types of dry waste such as plastic and glass,” says Jayakumar C, Health Inspector at Alappuzha municipality. Staff here monitor how people deposit waste. The motto is ‘My waste, my responsibility’. “Around 5800 households were also given subsidised compost/biogas units,” he adds.
Plastic waste is given to the state government’s Clean Kerala Company which sells it to factories in other states. The construction waste is used for filling marsh land, and inert waste is disposed of in deep burial pits within the city. A monitoring squad puts a penalty of Rs 2500 on those dumping waste.
The Alappuzha model has been awarded at the state level, and was also presented as a zero-waste model at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. But the city scored only 91 out 360 marks in the waste collection and transportation section in Survekshan, since it does not have a door-to-door collection system and does not levy user charges for collection. Worse, Alappuzha scored only 17 out of 180 in waste processing and disposal.
This is because, as the CSE has pointed out, the Swachh Survekshan 2017 has promoted a centralised system of waste processing and disposal, through centralised compost/WTE plants and landfills. Like Alappuzha, Trivandrum, which has also adopted a decentralised model in its core areas, ranked poorly at 372 in Survekshan.
No place for alternative models?
Two other components under the municipal self-declaration component of the Survekshan – namely, capacity building and behaviour change – also brought out surprising results. Alappuzha scored zero out of 45 in each of these sections, despite its sustained work at the grassroot level. Many other Kerala cities scored similarly.
These sections mainly assess if municipal officials are taking e-learning courses at Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) portal and the placement of SBM hoardings in public places. Jayakumar says that SBM hoardings were not placed since Alappuzha’s decentralised model was different from that promoted under SBM.
An MoUD official says on condition of anonymity, “The survey was based on the majority model that cities currently have. Cities with alternative models could inform us about it. If QCI found such cases, they could report it to us, but they reported no such cases.”
All of Kerala is now adopting a decentralised waste management model. But the QCI official says, “According to our document evaluation team, some necessary documentation like DPRs was lacking from Kerala cities. This led to their lower scores.” However, Jayakumar says that DPR and other SWM-related documents were given to the QCI assessors directly, and also emailed and couriered to the QCI Delhi office.
“Survekshan rankings are for monitoring SBM, not measuring impact”
While the drawback of relying on documents furnished by the municipality alone and the loopholes in some of the parameters of that component are evident from the above as well as an earlier article, other two components – direct observation by assessors, and citizen feedback – are quite subjective as well.
In the citizen feedback section, particularly, bias could be higher. Of the 600 marks for this section, 450 are based on direct feedback from citizens on six questions. Four of these questions are about whether the city’s sanitation has improved compared to the previous year. The problem here is that the responses may indicate if the city has improved in the immediate short term, rather than its sanitation levels in absolute terms.
As a QCI official points out, the purpose of the survey is monitoring the programme of Swachh Bharat Mission, which is still in progress, and not assessing its impact. “Impact assessment is generally done at the end of a programme. Now we are only assessing the progress that cities have made. The aim is to get cities to initiate waste management processes.”
The MoUD official says that the survey rankings are not linked with financial incentives yet, but top ranking cities will share their model and become torchbearers for others. He says that the parameters will be improved for next year’s survey, which will be held across 4041 towns in the country. “Next year we may have more parameters conforming with SWM Rules, such as decentralised facilities,” he says.
However, a question remains as to whether we should be looking at more sustainable waste management role models for others than the ones Swachh Survekshan 2017 has chosen.