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A Critical evaluation of Swachh Survekshan Programme

Published: 20th Mar, 2019

It has been alleged that 2019 Swachh Survekshan survey has rewarded cleanliness over sustainable waste management, thereby defeating the purpose behind this exercise.



It has been alleged that 2019 Swachh Survekshan survey has rewarded cleanliness over sustainable waste management, thereby defeating the purpose behind this exercise.


Swachh Bharat Mission is aimed at ensuring door-to-door garbage collection and proper disposal of municipal solid waste in all urban areas by 2019. The mission seeks the active participation of various stakeholders including the private sector and the citizens for Swachh Bharat to become a mass movement.

The Union Ministry of Urban Development is responsible for achieving the objectives of Swachh Bharat Mission in urban cities and towns.

Swachh Survekshan was started in 2016 by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) to rank and recognize the performance of cities on sanitation and solid waste management (SWM).

The idea was that such a ranking would instill a sense of competitiveness among cities and thus improve waste management practices across the country.


Government’s viewpoint:

  • Swachh Survekshan 2019 has seen several innovations (technological interventions) and best practices (active stakeholder engagement) emerging from the cities.
  • India has made impressive achievements under the SBM (Swachh Bharat Mission). Urban areas of 23 states / UTs have become ODF. More than 94% cities are already ODF.
  • Waste processing has gone up to 52% (compared to a mere 18% at the start of the Mission).

Timelines of the survey:

  • First ‘Swachh Survekshan-2016’ was conducted in January 2016 for ranking 73 cities (Urban Local Bodies).
  • Second survey in January-February 2017 covered 434 cities.
  • Swachh Survekshan 2018’ saw a massive increase in scale of survey and intensity of participation, with 4,203 cities
  • In 2019, it covered 4,237 cities, in a record time of 28 days, in a completely paperless, digital format for data collection.
  • In this short span of time, assessors managed to visit nearly 73,000 wards, 21,000 commercial areas, 69,000 residential areas, 75,000 community/public toilets, and more than 3100 waste to compost plants across the country.

Objectives of the Swachh Bharat Mission include:

  • Elimination of open defecation
  • Eradication of manual scavenging
  • Modern and Scientific Municipal Solid Waste Management
  • To effect behavioral change regarding healthy sanitation practices
  • Generate awareness about sanitation and its linkage with public health
  • Capacity Augmentation for Urban Local Bodies (ULB)
  • To create an enabling environment for private sector participation in Capex (capital expenditure) and Opex (operation and maintenance)

Methodology involved in the first Swachh Survekshan:

The first survey was conducted by Quality Council of India. The methodology, process and outcome indicators of the survey were designed by MoUD.

The survey confirmed work done by 73 municipalities on construction of individual household toilets, community and public toilet seats, door-to-door collection of garbage, waste management and treatment.

Cities were given two months’ preparatory time to support the data collection activities carried out during the field visits. A team of 110 assessors was deployed on the ground to conduct the survey.

The survey involved assessors visiting all the 73 cities and their ULBs to collect data from the ground level.

   Quality Council of India

  • It is an autonomous body of Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion.
  • It was created jointly by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) & Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM).
  • Main objectives of it :
    • To establish and operate national accreditation structure
    • To monitor and administer the National Quality Campaign

Is Swachh Survekshan 2019 rewarding wrong end of waste management?

A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit public interest research and advocacy group based in New Delhi, did a reality check of cities that secured the top 50 ranks in 2019.

It found that the Swachh Survekshan 2019 has rewarded cities that implemented a cleanliness drive during the two to three months of the survey.

Many cities that work all year towards household-level segregation, decentralized recycling and reuse of waste were given poor rankings.

Visual cleanliness has become key?

  • Swachh Survekshan rankings have become like an annual affair when cities work to get good ranking for three-four months, and are lax for the rest of the year.
  • The study found that only the top three cities – Indore, Ambikapur and Mysuru – had source segregation levels beyond 80%.
  • Nearly half of the 50 cities have segregation levels below 40%. Rajkot, Ranchi, Satara, Ghaziabad and Chandigarh, launched their segregation campaign just a few months before the survey, and have segregation levels below 20%.
  • Sustainable waste processing has been missing from most of the top-rated cities. Ujjain (rank 4), Ahmedabad (6), Ghaziabad (13) still dump bulk of their waste in landfills.
  • To the contrary, cities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, that have invested in decentralized waste processing systems, which are more sustainable, were ranked below 300.

Nearly half of India's incineration-based Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plants are defunct or are working below capacity, and many don’t comply with Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, but most cities have proposed and promoted WtE plants.

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. But this methodology was not strictly adhered to:

  • Swachh Survekshan 2019’s on-ground assessment was completed in a mere 28 days. The survey did not use adequate numbers of expert and qualified surveyors and certifiers to visit cities for data collection and observation. Many urban departments and city administrations 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.

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). However, the CSE research report stated that the segregation levels have reached only about 40 per cent and waste processing is not more than 30 per cent.

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 behavior change. It requires constant follow up and propagation, which has not happened in a majority of the cities.

Way forward

In the long run, an effective reform involves a sustained and knowledge based process that requires benchmarking, consultation, sharing of information and most importantly monitoring and evaluation. This report is inspired by the notion that, “What gets measured gets done” and therefore, it is intended to trigger a multi-stakeholder, participatory and reform-driven process.

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

Moreover, Survekshan should introduce cut-off criteria on all defined benchmarks where any city/associated stakeholders can objectively key-in data on a regular basis.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

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 decentralized recycling and reuse of waste were given poor rankings. Substantiate by giving suitable examples.

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