Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ Initiative

With the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself taking up the broom along with his cabinet colleagues, BJP cadres and lakhs of government employees, the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign got
05 Oct 2014 18:45
Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ Initiative
A flag saying "everything will be fine" is seen on a balcony in Ostia, Rome, Italy, March 21, 2020. (Photo by Elisa Lingria/Xinhua)

With the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself taking up the broom along with his cabinet colleagues, BJP cadres and lakhs of government employees, the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign got off to an energetic start on Thursday. But a look at the jaw-dropping dimensions of the problem makes one wonder whether Modi really has a chance to meet his target to clean-up India by 2019?

Here are some sobering stats. Urban India generates about 47 million tons of solid waste (garbage) every year or about 1.3 lakh tons every day, according to a study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). But this is only in cities and towns with a municipal body reporting. Another 30% of urban India lives outside these cities. If you add their garbage, the total would amount to about 68 million tons.

According to a calculation done by TERI in 1998, the garbage generated till 2011 would cover 2,20,000 football fields piled 9 meters (27 feet) high with garbage.

Increasing amount of garbage generation is to be expected as population and GDP grow. But here’s the thing: nearly one third of the garbage is not collected at all – it is just left to rot away in streets and alleys. So, in one year, about 14 million tons of garbage is left to rot in urban India’s streets.

The 70% that is collected is taken and dumped either in landfills or just any space available outside the main habitation. Only about 18% of the collected garbage is treated to recycle or make fuel. In other words, about 27 million tons of garbage is collected and dumped out of the city.

Since half of Indian garbage is typically organic matter which is compostable, the dumped garbage rots gets blown around and finally decomposes and mixes with the ground. The remaining untreatable part – mainly plastics – can be seen flying around.

What this gigantic mess needs is a plan for collection, segregation, proper dumping and treatment across the country. An estimate of the urban development ministry in 2009 had put the cost for doing this at about Rs.48,582 crore.

The other dimension of sanitation is sewage or wastewater disposal. CPCB estimates that in 2009, 38 billion liters of sewage was generated per day from 498 tier I cities. Installed capacity to treat this giant river of wastewater is 12 billion litres or less than one-third of the requirement.

This means the remaining 26 billion liters is getting dumped into our streams and rivers daily, making many of them terminally sick.

In the four metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata – of the 16 billion litres sewage generated per day, only 8 billion litres get treated. In the 410 tier II cities, about 3 billion liters of sewage was generated per day but only a tiny fraction, 0.23 billion litres was treated.

While the Modi government is planning to build millions of toilets, there doesn’t seem to be any concrete plan or allocation for laying down sewerage networks or treatment plants, though these problems have been mentioned. The urban development ministry had calculated in 2009-10 that it would take Rs. 2.43 lakh crore to build a suitable sewage network covering the whole of urban India.

About 49% of Indians live in houses with no drains while another 33% live in houses with open drains. Apart from garbage, this is the single biggest source of filth and the primary source of various diseases.

The bulk of these people are living in villages which somehow get sidelined in the hype about the need for urban cleanliness.

Clearly, just brooms will not be enough. Building toilets, however laudable a project, will not in itself solve the problem of sewage. Sanitation and hygienic living conditions will need a much larger vision. If the Prime Minister has it, he hasn’t unfolded it as yet.


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