The choice of Indore in Madhya Pradesh as India’s cleanest city with a population higher than 1 million for the fourth time in succession confirms that this central Indian urban agglomeration has been both serious and consistent about its standards, and has not allowed the change in dispensation in the state capital to interfere with its commitment to sanitation. That Surat, blighted by the plague not so long ago, is second on the list, too, occasions no surprise because after suffering that mortification in the early 1990s, its overseers worked hard to address core sanitation issues.
Not surprisingly, municipalities in India’s largest metropolises have fared poorly in the Swacch Survekshan rankings announced this week with Hyderabad at 23 out of 47 surveyed cities with a population over 1 million, Greater Mumbai at 35, Bengaluru at 37 and Chennai at 45. West Bengal did not participate in the survey and residents of the state can only speculate if things have improved since 2018 when 19 of the 25 dirtiest cities were reported to be in the state. Empirical evidence might not be available, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Kolkata and Howrah are closer to the bottom than to the top.
Delhi’s citizens have a lot to be unhappy about. While the New Delhi Municipal Council enjoys a high rank among cities with a population of between 100,000 and a million, all the other city municipalities ~ each with populations above a million ~ have fared shoddily, with South Delhi ranked at 31, North Delhi at 43 and East Delhi at 46. Even Ghaziabad and Agra have fared better, and only Patna has performed worse than East Delhi. This is a scandalous situation and suggests that there is wide disparity between the quality of civic services offered in the elite enclave of New Delhi and in other parts of the city. Certainly, those in charge of these municipal bodies have a lot to answer for, and it will not do to merely shift blame for this sorry situation to others.
To varying degrees, everyone in the picture from the Lieutenant-Governor to the Delhi Government and the Members of Parliament from the state has a role to play, but primarily the responsibility lies with the municipal corporations and their performance has been uniformly abysmal. The municipal corporations are prone to blame the Delhi government for all their shortcomings. But this argument cannot wash, quite simply because the unique administrative structure of the capital is a reality that all parties must live with. For the BJPruled municipalities to blame the Aam Aadmi Party ruled government, and for this government in turn to blame the Union Government and the Lt-General does not solve the problem. For the fact is that Delhi’s citizens do not really need a national survey to tell them how poorly they are served by those who administer the city’s municipalities.