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From dumping grounds to golf courses — how Indore became India’s cleanest city

The former collector of Indore writes about how the city’s competitive drive to be the cleanest in India brought together govt officials and citizens.

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Indore has been crowned the cleanest city in the country for the fourth time in a row this year. The single most important reason for Indore bagging this title is the combined efforts of the city’s people, its public representatives and government officials. Indore’s journey is inspiring, and the steps it took are now being followed by many cities in India and across the globe.

When Indore started working towards this in 2016, it had many challenges to face. Municipal waste management systems and processes were not in place, and infrastructure was negligible. There were no material recovery facilities, transfer stations and processing units. Composting facilities were non-operational.

The unorganised trenching grounds had over 13 lakh tons of legacy waste, which were causing methane-induced fires, bad odour, and attracted disease-causing insects. Only about 5 per cent of the city saw door-to-door waste collection, with no source segregation. Unorganised collection, transportation and dumping of faecal sludge was also rampant.

The city had to emerge out of this undesirable situation, which required support and cooperation of citizens and communities. The municipal and sanitation workers weren’t motivated and organised to perform at their optimum capacity. This was due to lack of monitoring mechanisms and an ineffective citizen complaint redressal system.

Apart from this, there was no political awareness to achieve cleanliness goals. There was also no awareness about solid waste management processes in local media, as well as among the local administration and resident welfare associations (RWAs).

Also read: Cities ranking poorly in Swachh Survekshan 2020 say unhappy with metrics used for survey

A slow journey to cleanliness 

Swachh Bharat Mission, started by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 2 October 2014, threw up challenges to each city in India to overcome poor cleanliness. Cities were made to participate in a national-level competitive programme in order to become clean cities. In 2016, Indore achieved the rank of 25 in this challenge.

Meanwhile, Indore’s rural district marched ahead to become the second open defecation free district in India in 2016. This achievement made Indore’s municipal administration introspect and challenge itself to turn the city into the cleanest one in the country. Municipal Commissioner Manish Singh, and later Asheesh Singh, galvanised the entire corporation towards achieving this goal.

The process 

The most important challenge was to change the behaviour of the citizens of Indore towards waste segregation at home — that is, making them keep separate bins for dry, wet, and hazardous waste (such as sanitary napkins, diapers, etc.). They also had to develop a consciousness about not littering in public places.

Indore took multiple steps to motivate people into adopting clean habits:

  • Free distribution of dustbins in wards/households, wherever there was high resistance by citizens.
  • Joint visit of municipal officials and public representatives to persuade citizens to segregate waste at home. There was one instance in which an official himself segregated waste from the dustbin of a citizen, who had refused to segregate waste despite multiple requests. This led to huge embarrassment, and not only changed the behaviour of that one household but also had a cascading impact on others.
  • Several religious leaders came together on a common platform, and conducted mass road-sweeping exercises at various locations.
  • The Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) involved 850 Self-Help Groups, comprising almost 8,500 women, in spreading awareness for source segregation at home, conducting mass campaigns, including material recovery facility centres.
  • Campaigns for zero-waste markets and colonies were launched to focus on areas that needed attention.
  • Composting awareness campaigns, which resulted in more than 50,000 households doing home composting, by converting kitchen waste into compost.
  • Imposing fines for non-segregation of waste at home, and public littering.

A ‘dustbin free city’ initiative was taken up, and special emphasis was laid on investigation of waste to ascertain where the waste came from And indeed, in a short span of time, Indore became a dustbin-free city. Many NGOs were mobilised to motivate households to opt for door-to-door collection of segregated waste. Leading from the front, Indore’s Mayor Malini Laxman Singh Goud and many other public representatives took a keen interest to make sure their wards/areas were clean. The competition to become a clean city triggered internal competition among the corporators to become the number one clean ward.

Also read: Want to save Jaipur and its 2,300-yr-old mummy? Unclog the drains

Current scenario 

Today, 100 per cent of household waste in Indore is segregated at the source, and then taken to transfer stations for final processing and disposal. Ten ultra-modern mechanised transfer stations have been established in different parts of the city.

For a sustainable integrated solid waste management system, Information communication & technology (ICT) based devices and unique Weighbridge mechanisms were introduced. Ultra-modern mechanised road-sweeping machines are now used for cleaning major bypasses, super corridors, and bridges.

A collection and transportation app was developed to ensure the digitisation of the entire process, from door-to-door segregation to final disposal of the waste. This also ensured 100 per cent data management in the form of digital file formats, that includes all registers of segregated waste and citizen feedback.

Indore’s wet waste management techniques have been linked to its public transport as well. A bio-CNG plant with a capacity of 200 tonnes per day, which converts wet waste through biomethanisation process, was established. Today, up to 15 city buses operate on this bio-CNG gas.

A dry waste processing plant with a capacity of 300 tonnes per day has been established on public-private partnership (PPP) mode. A construction and demolition (C&D) waste plant with a capacity of 100 tonnes per day has also been established, which takes care of the waste generated in municipal limits. This C&D waste is reused to make non-structural concrete, paving blocks, lower layers of road payments, etc.

Through the process of bioremediation, Indore’s dumping yard has been converted into a green belt. Hundred percent legacy waste has been remediated, and hundred acres of land worth Rs 300 crore has been reclaimed. There is a proposal to develop a golf course and a city forest on the reclaimed land. The place that once used to be the source of a horrible stench is now where VIPs throng to have a cup of tea. 

More than five initiatives based on the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — have been taken up to reduce Indore’s waste and ensure sustainability in the long run. These include the Bartan bank, Food bank, disposable-free events, art and crafts made out of waste, “Neki Ki Deewar” (wall of good deeds), and use of reusable cutlery in hotels and restaurants (instead of single-use plastic cutlery).

Several social media initiatives were taken up, apart from traditional information, education and communication (IEC) activities, and this is the reason Indore has always ranked high in citizen engagement. The song Ho Halla, that was sung by popular Indian singer Shaan, became the Swachhta anthem for the citizens of Indore in 2017. New versions of the same song, such as Hai Halla, Hatrick Lagayenge and Chouka Lagayenge, continued to inspire Indorians in subsequent years.

Once Indore became the cleanest city in 2017, the entire responsibility shifted to retaining this tag. Every year since then, the number of initiatives have only increased and strengthened the city’s cleanliness story. Indore continues to challenge itself to stay at the number one position. The cleanest city tag in 2020 will only make us keep going on.

The author is an IAS officer, and Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh State Cooperative Marketing Federation. He was a collector from 2015-17, when Indore first won the title of India’s cleanest city. He has held the position of Commissioner and Secretary of Urban Administration Dept at the state level from 2019-20. Views are personal.

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  1. This is such a wonderful achievement for the people of indore and bharat.

    They have done the country proud.

    This is also an example where against all odds, people have accepted the challenge. Through behavioral and societal changes they made this public initiative a huge success.

    Thank you to the people of indore.

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