CSE assessment of Swachh Survekshan 2019 finds loopholes in the survey and its rankings

A great initiative being destroyed by poor implementation, notes the assessment 

New Delhi, March 12, 2019: A new independent analysis of the recently released results of the Swachh Survekshan 2019 has unearthed a number of anomalies in the way the survey was conducted and its results, thus threatening an otherwise excellent initiative. The analysis, done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), was released here today. 

“Swachh Survekshan has definitely led to a paradigm shift by increasing awareness and involving citizens in sanitation and waste management issues. However, this year, the programme has been further diluted instead of being strengthened because of political expediency,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE. 

A survey compromised

Swachh Survekshan was started in 2016 by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) to rank and recognise the performance of cities on sanitation and solidwaste management (SWM). The idea was that such a ranking would instil a sense of competitiveness among cities and thus improve waste management practices across the country. 

Said Bhushan: “Over the last four years, the number of cities covered under the survey has increased manifold – from 73 cities in 2016 to 4,237 in 2019. The methodology has been modified to give more weightage to sustainable wastemanagement practices instead of mere cleanliness. But the 2019 survey has again rewarded cleanliness over sustainable waste management, thereby defeating the purpose behind this exercise.” 

In the survey, 75 per cent of the score was dependent on information collected through a third-party certifier, direct observation by a survey agency and citizen feedback. “In general, this is a good methodology to ensure that correct information is captured on the performance of cities. But this methodology also demands a strict protocol to ensure best practices are followed during survey and certification. Unfortunately, this was not kept in mind,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager, solid waste management, CSE. 

Firstly, Swachh Survekshan 2019 on-ground assessment was completed in a mere 28 days to ensure that the results were declared before the announcement of the election dates (the 2018 survey was done in 66 days). The survey did not use adequate numbers of expert and qualified surveyors and certifiers to visit cities for data collection and observation – in fact, many state urban departments and city administrations have raised their concerns about the incompetence of the surveyors. 

Surveyors did not visit every city that they claimed to have assessed. For instance, site visits were made in only in six-seven of the 26 cities that were rated in Bihar. The remaining cities were asked to share documents and pictures on the online portal. Said Sambyal: “The poor quality of the survey and third-party assessment is clearly reflected in the overall results and rankings.” 

While releasing the results of the Survekshan, the MoHUA claimed that the country-wide segregation of waste at source has increased to 60 per cent and waste processing has gone up to 52 per cent (compared to a low 18 per cent at the start of the Swachh Bharat Mission). The CSE analysis indicates that both these claims are over-exaggerated. 

CSE researchers say segregation levels have reached only about 40 per cent and waste processing is not more than 30 per cent. In fact, in the top 50 cities, only Indore, Mysuru and Ambikapur have segregation levels of over 80 per cent. Tirupati, Ahmedabad, Kolhapur, Bhopal, Singrauli, Durg, Greater Hyderabad, Tiruchirapalli and Greater Mumbai have segregation levels between 40-59 per cent. Other top-ranked cities like the New Delhi Municipal Council, GVMC Visakhapatnam, Chandrapur_M, Ambernath, Wardha, Vasai Vihar, Pune and Latur have segregation levels between 20-39 per cent only. 

Some of the cities – such as Rajkot, Ranchi, Satara, Ghaziabad and Chandigarh -- launched their segregation campaign just a few months before the Survekshan and have segregation levels of below 20 per cent. Jaipur and Sagar(which also feature in the rankings) have no source segregation practice at all. 

‘The source segregation campaign has been reduced to mere distribution of green and blue bins in many cities, but it is not enough to inculcate behaviour change. It requires constant follow up and propagation, which has not happened in a majority of the cities,” said Sambyal. 

Sustainable waste processing has been missing from most of the top-rated cities. Ujjain, ranked fourth, dumps the bulk of its waste at the Gondiya trenching ground, where a major fire incident occurred recently. Ahmedabad which secured the sixth spot dumps its waste at the highly contested Pirana landfill site. Ghaziabad (ranked 13th) has only recently started composting and still dumps over 80 per cent of its waste. 

In contrast, many cities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Sikkim and Bihar are doing commendable work on sustainable waste management – they were relegated to the bottom of the ranking. Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram and Panaji, which have invested in decentralised waste- processing approaches, were ranked below 300. 

Nearly half of India’s incineration based waste-to-energy (WTE) plants are defunct or are working below capacity. None of the WTE plants comply with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 which say that only segregated non-recyclable high-calorific fractions be sent to these plants. Inspite of this, in majority of the top 50 cities, such plants are being promoted ― WTE plants are operational in NDMC and Jabalpur. 

CSE recommends

What is clear is that Swachh Survekshan 2019 has rewarded cities that implemented a cleanliness drive during the duration of the survey. Many cities that work year-round towards household-level segregation and decentralised recycling and reuse of waste were given poor rankings. This cannot be the way to incentivise and recognise cities for waste management. 

“We cannot sweep the waste out of our sight and hope to manage the ever-increasing mountains of waste in our cities,” said Bhushan. 

“There is a need for major reform in the way Swachh Survekshan is done.  For instance, Swachh Survekshan has to follow the criteria established under the SWM Rules, 2016 that emphasise on segregation, have penalties for non-segregation and littering and user-fee collection ,” Bhushan added.

For more on this, please contact Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre, sukanya.nair@cseindia.org , 8816818864.