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Indore, from “garbage dump” to India’s cleanest city

Indore, a city ranked 149th for cleanliness just a short time ago in 2014, is now regarded as India’s cleanest city, a title that residents hold with pride. How did such a city improve its environmental health to such a staggering degree? 


 Image ID: 85291169 (L)
Mahatma Gandhi Town Hall in Indore

Just a few short years ago, Indore, a commercial hub of Madya Pradesh was described by Quartz India as a place which “people treated…as a vast public garbage dump. After eating food on paper plates bought from stalls at the famous Sarafa food market, customers simply threw their plates and any residue on the ground.”

Household waste was simply thrown into the streets. Stray animals were a huge issue, feeding off the garbage and subsequently defecating in the streets, adding to the common issue of open defecation — an issue that until recently has been a cause for concern even in India’s urban metropolises.

Densely packed cities combined with such poor levels of hygiene present not only an environmental impact, but a public health risk. Disease in these situations often becomes rife. Water-borne diseases such as cholera become a major concern when public defecation and improper waste disposal is common. Dumping of waste and refuse presents ample opportunity for mosquito populations to establish themselves, adding issues such as malaria and dengue fever to an ever extended list of infectious diseases.

How was the situation rectified, and how does Indore still hold the top spot for cleanliness in India? The answer is a major overhaul of waste management, along with a ‘carrot and stick’ method for ensuring proper conduct of employees involved. 

Firstly, bins and rubbish collection points were installed across the city. In addition, in areas where open defecation was rife, a number of toilets were installed. Municipal cleaning staff across the city who were going about their rounds in cycle rickshaws were given new uniforms along with GPS-fitted trucks. Through these improvements to the jobs, as well as measures to curb the abysmal thirty-to-forty percent attendance rate, the efficiency of the cities rubbish collection was increased manifold.

Some employees were resistant to the change. Of these hundreds were laid off. Of those who remained their renewed public image and job efficiency added previously unfound vigour to their work ethic, helping to rid the city of its previous mounds of rubbish. Drum squads were also employed to publicly embarrass open defecators.

Once residents became impressed with rubbish collection often at their doorstep, they were willing to pay a monthly rate for the service, helping to alleviate the costs of the newly improved workforce. Open defecation stopped, streets were cleaned, and due to the combined effort of both the community and the city’s workforce it has remained this way. Infectious disease rates fell — a clear indication that if India wishes to curb infectious disease rates, its streets must first be cleaned.

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