What makes our cities clean: On Swachh Survekshan, rankings and beyond

Key highlights from a webinar organised by Citizen Matters on the Swachh Survekshan 2020 and the deeper insights from experts.

Launched in 2015, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), has come a long way. The programme made sure that cleanliness and sanitation found a place in India’s governance landscape. The programme was aimed at transforming the behaviour of the masses on issues of sustainable waste management. 

To further strengthen and evaluate the performance of the mission, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Government of India (GoI) kick started India’s first and largest cleanliness survey, Swachh Survekshan in 2016. Since, then the survey has evolved significantly, engaging citizens, administrative systems and civil society towards creating a robust waste management system.

Swachh Survekshan 2020 results (Declared in August 2020) 

  • Indore from Madhya Pradesh emerged as the cleanest city for the fourth time in a row. 
  • Surat from Gujarat and Navi Mumbai from Maharashtra claimed second and third rank respectively. 
  • Varanasi was adjudged as cleanest Ganga town
  • Jalandhar cantonment was ranked the cleanest cantonment in the country. 

Apart from these, there were several other award categories on which the cities were judged and awarded.   

To understand and discuss these issues in depth, Citizen Matters organized a webinar with experts on Swachh Survekshan 2020 on 26 September 2020. The webinar discussed the structure of Swachh Survekshan, the lessons from top performer Indore, the experiences of waste warriors in other cities and the way forward. 


  • Anil Prakash, Deputy Team Leader, Swachh Bharat Mission, MoHUA, GoI
  • Swati Singh Sambyal, Waste Management Expert, UN-Habitat India
  • Asad Warsi, SWM Advisor, Indore Municipal Corporation
  • Pinky Chandran, Founding Member, SWMRT Bengaluru

Catch the complete discussion in the video


Key points from the discussion

Fundamentals and evolution

Key points from Anil Prakash

Swachh Bharat was started as an ambitious project, including components on ODF India and 100% door-to-door collection and segregation which were really surprising. SBM guidelines were issued by the Ministry to ULBs for the implementation of the project. However, the problem was that every city read and interpreted it in their own ways. 

Thus came about the idea of Swachh Survekshan — for creating a baseline to assess the status of waste management in the Indian cities. The concept of Swachh Survekshan was to see how cities were performing under the SBM. Very soon, Swachh Survekshan became a public movement. The rankings drove efforts such as source segregation and achieving ODF status.

But it is imperative to understand that rankings are not solely based on solid waste management. It takes several other factors into consideration like sanitation, citizen feedback on cleanliness of public places, direct observation of a variety of indicators. Therefore, a city has to perform well on all fronts to secure a high rank. 

Anil spoke of the strong focus on source segregation. He informed that the methodology is designed in such a manner that a city has to perform at least 80% of segregation to perform well in the survey. It remains a non-negotiable parameter and cities find it difficult to score high marks. 

Anil said that so far around 84000 waste pickers have been integrated into the system. He also said that the focus of the ministry is on getting real time data, reducing the scope of any redundancy or bogus data. He further said that all the data submitted by the ULBs is being validated on the ground by the assessors and it carries significant weightage too. 

To conclude, Anil felt that there is a need to create a demand driven waste management system. If citizens demand a proper waste management system, such pressure groups can work as a catalyst. The ULB will then be pressurized to deliver the same.   If there is convergence of thought processes between the civic authorities and mayors and elected heads the cities tend to do well.

The Indore model

Points from Asad Warsi

Waste management is a dynamic sector, and systems need to be created and maintained in a sustained manner. Since waste management is directly related to the public, the processes and practices need to be citizen centric.

Public consultation remains the core of creating a robust waste management system. Only that can trigger critical ‘behaviour change’. Over time, the masses will change their behaviour and adopt new practices which are more sustainable and help in keeping a city clean.

Indore’s three-pronged approach

1. Creating a bin free city: The city decided to do away with secondary and community bins and supplemented it with an extremely efficient door-to-door collection system.

2. Removal of dust: The city addressed this issue on war footing and deployed modern machines to carry out regular road sweeping operations. Special vehicles were designed for the highways, streets and narrow lanes. Timings were decided for these operations so that traffic could remain undisturbed. 

3. Litter picking: The sanitary workers (known as safai mitras) were given a gunny bag and they used to pick litter that was thrown in open in public places or green belts of the city. This helped a lot in reducing the problem of littering in the city. 

All of this was supplemented by a strong administrative and political will which gave rise to a public movement for sustainable waste management in Indore.

Asad also stressed the need to have a strong Information, Education and Communication (IEC) strategy aimed at inducing behaviour change among citizens. Creating targeted and engaging IEC campaigns for relevant stakeholders is crucial and plays a key role in determining the outcome of any project.

IEC cannot be stopped, it has to be continuous. “We have cut down on other aspects but we have increased the budget of IEC by Rs 1 to 1.5 cr per month which has been a game changer,” said Asad.

More than 50 thousand households in Indore are engaged in home composting and building zero waste communities. This is pushing the idea of decentralized waste management. Households are segregating the dry and wet waste which is helping them in monetizing the entire effort. The dry waste is being bought by Indore Municipal Corporation from citizens at a rate of Rs 2.5 per kg. This has resulted in 100% segregation in all the 85 wards of the city. 

The city has a separate waste management protocol for wet markets and green waste in the city like leaves, fallen trees etc.

Indore is in the process of establishing Asia’s biggest bio CNG plant in PPP mode which will be operational by December 2021. It also has an automated material recovery facility which gives employment to 400 waste pickers.

Lighthouse cities

Asad Warsi pointed out that in Madhya Pradesh, several small towns and cities situated close to Indore have observed the model closely and learnt from it. As a result, they are now finding a place in the top 100 rankings. This is the impact that these lighthouse cities can create. 

Thus, we need to have around 20 to 25 lighthouse cities like Indore which can guide states and cities in having similar waste management models. These lighthouse cities should be prioritized by the ministry and funded adequately so that other cities can learn from them and grow.

Getting the right data and validating it

Inputs from Pinky Chandran

Pinky shared her experiences on waste management in Bengaluru. She appreciated the objectives of SBM and said that it had played a great role in ensuring cleanliness and fostering competition amongst the cities for improved waste management systems. However, she questions whether cities are taking any learnings from the rankings or not? 

She highlighted several lacunas which dissolves the credibility of the survey methodology, focussing on the perspective of one critical stakeholder group: the waste pickers. 

One of the major findings she shared from some of her research work on integration of informal waste pickers was that there is no benchmarking on the number of waste pickers integrated through SBM. She claims the 2018 survey highlighted integration of 72,000 waste pickers followed by 1.2 lakh in 2019 and then, 83626 in 2020.    

She further highlights the experience of Mysore city which has consistently ranked well in the survey. The Mysore corporation in all its official reports to CPCB and other authorities consistently writes that it has been generating 402 tons of waste per day since 2011 till now. How can this be possible? How can the 402 figure of waste generation be constant for every year after 2011? asks Pinky.  

She calls for transparency and better convergence of data being submitted by ULBs for the evaluation. 

On Bengaluru, which received an award for the best self sustainable waste management model but had an unimpressive rank of 214, Pinky says that there remains an absence of political and bureaucratic will and coordination in the city, unlike what is observed in Indore. While Bengaluru has active citizen groups working on this, there is a lack of political will that has held the efforts back.

Western and european cities have taken almost 25 to 30 years in creating well structured and sustainable waste management systems. In comparison, India has made a lot of improvement in the last five years. It needs to be acknowledged.

Asad Warsi, Advisor, Indore Municipal Corporation

Why it’s important to look beyond the Swachh Survekshan

Inputs from Swati Singh Sambyal

Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan has created substantial changes in the waste management landscape. The survey has created a broad range of achiever cities by creating several categories based on population size and other factors. However, she feels that sometimes the efforts taken by the cities towards cleanliness and sustainable ‘swachhta’ are not getting reflected in the rankings. She shares the example of Alappuzha and Trivandrum in Kerala which are doing exceptional work in waste management. 

It is extremely important to check whether cities are just required to have documentation and or if they are actually sharing the data based on actual inventorization. She further claimed that inventorization of waste should be done at least twice a year. This will help in ascertaining the new waste streams that are entering our ecosystem and how to treat it. This should also reflect in the survey’s methodology. 

Swachh Survekshan, said Swati, is just an accelerator for the cities to adopt sustainable waste management practices. It is the fundamental mandate of the ULBs to provide efficient waste management services to its citizens and it should not stop or be deterred due to the survey. The rankings in the survey should not discourage cities from deploying best practices and providing best waste management services. 

She shared an example of the city of Panaji in Goa which is now shifting from 5-point segregation to 16-point segregation. On the contrary, the city has not done well in the rankings. But it has not discouraged the Municipal Commissioner of the city to put in place robust waste management infra and practices. Such should be the spirit. 

She also said that in coming times the challenge of waste management is going to increase as new streams of waste especially in the COVID-19 era will make their ways in the environment. The survey should take into consideration the new realities. She also highlighted the need for case studies on other small and big cities that are doing well in terms of sanitation, waste management etc. 

Cities need to think beyond the Survekshan and make things better on the ground.

For more insights and the Q&A session with audience, watch the video here.

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