The Hindu Editorial Analysis – 2 – October, 2021

The following is an in-depth analysis of the October 2, 2021 Hindu Editorial titled ‘No Clean Sweep’. The Draft B is the actual piece whereas the Draft A is the analysis by us.

Draft A ..

PM Modi’s renewed attempt to rejuvenate India’s urban centers

Gandhiji in the formative years of his public life had realized that Indians and the places they live in must adopt cleanliness and hygiene as the ‘mantra’ as they prepare to break the colonial chains and be a free and vibrant nation. Personally, and in and around the Sabarmati Ashram, he went to great lengths to ensure high standards of community sanitation and personal hygiene.
More than a century has since elapsed and Indians still prefer going to the open for defecation, and Indian cities look like decaying urban sprawls that look dirtier than a few of their counterparts in Asia’s under-developed countries. It seems we, as a nation, are condemned to live with the ignominy of being a dirty race.
Indian cities generate nearly 1, 40,000 lakh tons of garbage a day. With the existing infrastructure, we can process just about 1,00, 0000 tons of waste. The balance waste amounting to nearly 40,000 tons of waste remains uncleared rotting and polluting the environment. Some cities have launched programmes to burn the waste and produce electric power out of them. This is a very desirable win-win situation for the city dwellers and the civic authorities. But, the installation of these plants has been too slow to cope with the surging generation of wastes in cities and towns.
Nearly six years ago, Prime minister Modi had launched the flagship sanitation programme named “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”. Despite Modi lending his shoulders to the campaign, the impact on society seemed to taper off much sooner than expected. The programme ended with nothing much to write home about.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new initiative .. PM Modi has announced the second phase of Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), with a renewed pledge to free Indian cities of filth and squalor. It appears strange how the Father of the Nation’s stress on cleanliness has remained unheeded even though a century has passed in between. India’s cities have earned the reputation of being the most polluted and the most congested. Delhi, the capital, is one of the cities in the world with the dirtiest air. Mumbai is known for its sprawling slums and annual floods. Barring just one or two cities, India’s metropolises generally cause revulsion in the minds of the visitors from abroad. PM Modi is painfully aware of this negative image and wants to mend the state of affairs.
Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM-U 2.0), has an outlay of ₹1.41-lakh crore. It will focus on garbage-free cities and putting in place urban grey and black water management in places not covered by Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). In its first phase, the Mission had an unspent balance of ₹3,532 crore, since the total allocation was ₹14,622 crore could not be fully utilized.
Ideally Indian cities should be able to recycle all the 1.44 lakh tons of waste they generate to produce electric power and other commodities like compost etc. But, achieving this target requires skillful governance and great political will, apart from the financial resources. The first two are India’s weaknesses, as a result of which recycling urban waste remains so elusive a goal.
A policy frame work that incentivises segregation of waste right at the house hold level could be a booster in the country’s effort to achieve full recycling of urban wastes to power and other resources. It has to be a community-led effort, where citizens participate voluntarily rather than through threats of coercion. Such decentralized effort will be spontaneous, corruption-free, and more cost-effective compared to the model where big contracts for collection, segregation and transportation of voluminous wastes are given to a single contractor.
Indian urban centers are generating waste as never before. Under such conditions, SBM-U 2.0 can be effective only if its operations are scaled up faster than the rate of increase of waste generation. Such scaling up will create more jobs, and expanding storage and segregation spaces.
On sanitation, the impressive claim of the government of exceeding targets stand on flimsy grounds. With no reliable water supply connection, and decrepit toilets built hastily, the new toilets showing up in government records have become dysfunctional and redundant. Thus, providing clean, usable toilets at family and community levels have remained a remote dream.
State and municipal bodies entrusted with the work of collecting and transporting bulk unsegregated will, do well to onboard the citizens on to the process. That would promote efficiency and curb wastage of money and man power.
Declaring certain towns and cities Open Defecation Free (ODF+) is similarly considered a dubious claim. At present, there is no record keeping for people going out to the open to ease themselves. In the same way, the upkeep, maintenance and water availability at public toilets are not monitored. So, how can claims regarding ODF be substantiated?
The country has some 4700 urban local bodies. Providing clean drinking water to the homes in these centers is an uphill task. So are the problems of providing sewage and septage in 500 AMRUT cities. The mind-boggling dimensions of these goals can be made somewhat manageable by building millions of homes for low-income group people under the rental scheme. When such houses get built and occupied, the pressure of the occupants drives the authorities to expedite the task of various civic amenities. Hence, building low-cost housing has to take precedence over other measures.

Draft B ..

No clean sweep

Transforming urban India calls for community-based moves towards a circular economy

Seven years after launching his government’s marquee programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the second phase of Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), with a fresh promise to make India’s cities clean. For all the attention it has received, the goal of scientific waste management and full sanitation that Mahatma Gandhi emphasised even a century ago remains largely aspirational today, and the recent lament of Principal Economic Adviser Sanjeev Sanyal on dirty, dysfunctional cities drives home the point. That urban India, in his view, is unable to match cities in Vietnam that has a comparable per capita income is a telling commentary on a lack of urban management capacities in spite of the Swachh Bharat programme enjoying tremendous support. SBM-U 2.0, with a ₹1.41-lakh crore outlay, aims to focus on garbage-free cities and urban grey and black water management in places not covered by AMRUT. In its first phase, the Mission had an outstanding balance of ₹3,532 crore, since the total allocation was ₹14,622 crore while cumulative releases came to ₹11,090 crore. The issue of capability and governance underscores the challenge — of being able to process only about one lakh tonnes of solid waste per day against 1.4 lakh tonnes generated — to transition to a circular economy that treats solid and liquid waste as a resource.
Raising community involvement in resource recovery, which the rules governing municipal, plastic and electronic waste provide for, calls for a partnership that gives a tangible incentive to households. The current model of issuing mega contracts to big corporations — as opposed to decentralised community-level operations for instance — has left segregation of waste at source a non-starter. In the absence of a scaling up of operations, which can provide large-scale employment, and creation of matching facilities for material recovery, SBM-U 2.0 cannot keep pace with the tide of waste in a growing economy. On sanitation, the impressive claim of exceeding the targets for household, community and public toilets thus far obscures the reality that without water connections, many of them are unusable, and in public places, left in decrepitude. State and municipal governments, which do the heavy lifting on waste and sanitation issues, should work to increase community ownership of the system. As things stand, it is a long road to Open Defecation Free plus (ODF+) status for urban India, since that requires no recorded case of open defecation and for all public toilets to be maintained and functioning. Equally, the high ambition of achieving 100% tap water supply in about 4,700 urban local bodies and sewerage and septage in 500 AMRUT cities depends crucially on making at least good public rental housing accessible to millions of people.

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