Environment
The rankings considered 71 parameters like sanitation, innovation and best practices and solid waste management.
Chennai in the aftermath of the Ennore oil spill

With the Swachh Survekshan 2018 rankings out, Tamil Nadu, and particularly Chennai, is staring at a poor marksheet. The rankings award the best-performing cities in terms of sanitation and cleanliness as per the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Government of India.

The Ministry for Housing and Urban Affairs released the rankings of 4,203 cities across India on Wednesday. The survey was conducted between January 4 and March 10. Unlike previous years that provided rankings for each city, this year's results award the three best performing states, 20 cities at the zonal level and 29 cities and cantonment boards at the national level.

Apart from St Thomas Mount Cantonment, which has received the award for 'Best Cantonment in Innovation and Best Practices', Chennai and other cities in the state have not made it to the list.

The survey was initiated in 2016 in order to encourage cities to improve urban sanitation. That year, Chennai was ranked 36 in a list of 73 cities. Trichy was at the third place, and Coimbatore and Madurai were placed at 18 and 26 respectively.

However, in 2017, Chennai stood at 235 amongst 434 cities surveyed. Keeping up their performance from the previous year, Trichy and Coimbatore stood at 6 and 16, while Velankani, Hosur, Tiruppur, Madurai, Erode and Kumbakonam all made it to the top 100. In fact, Tambaram, which falls outside the Greater Chennai Corporation, fared much better at 62.

Ignoring the citizenry

Speaking to TNM, environmental activist Shweta Narayan points out, “There is no urban planning. There is no mechanism in place to even look at what are our waste management or sanitation systems in the city. The answers are pretty obvious. There is a complete collapse of health and sanitation management in the city. It’s not new. In terms of garbage management, no matter how many times or for how many years communities and city groups have been advising or asking the Corporation to decentralize the waste management practices or to do away with the landfills, to look at reduction, to look at the producer’s responsibility - none of those mechanisms have been put in place. So obviously, overnight, when a survey like this happens, we will never figure in the list. The reason we didn’t do well is staring us in the face and we have chosen not to do anything about it.”

No segregation at source

According to the Survey Toolkit, the rankings measure 48 parameters under Service Legal Progress, including collection and transportation, processing and disposal, sanitation, IEC and behaviour change, capacity building, innovation and best practices.

Chennai is notorious for not implementing a policy of segregation at the source and, more alarmingly, is the absence of a clear-cut waste processing policy.

Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Centre says, “Slums and fishing villages don’t even have the basic garbage disposal, let alone door-to-door collection. And even if garbage is collected from our house, the other mechanisms are not being followed. They collect everything and it goes to the landfills. Some of the other coastal areas are, in fact, marginally cleaner than Chennai with the kind of awareness that is prevalent. In regular residential areas, awareness boards or hoardings are hardly there. There is no local-level awareness or outreach. Segregating garbage is doable with every household, but even within gated communities, that conversation is not happening. It used to be a lot more commonplace a few years ago. There is no processing that is being done.”

The data is also collected from interactions with the municipal body, through direct observation by the inspecting team as well as citizen feedback.

Paper tigers

Speaking to TNM, G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental group based out of Tamil Nadu, says, “The city governance in the last five to six years has been very bad. It has been lagging from 2011, especially post the floods in 2015. There have been no new initiatives or major projects to clean up the city. This is a strike on the face. The roads in the city are not clean; there is no policy for solid waste management. Everything is being announced – that they will do source segregation – but nothing is being carried out. They announced the Cooum restoration project for managing water waste nothing has moved on the field.”

Sundarrajan says the need of the hour in the state is a responsible and sensitive city government. “None of the cities in Tamil Nadu have a city governance which takes care of water bodies, the disposal of solid waste, disposal of food, segregation. They want to expand city’s limits, but they have no plan on how a city should be, how the city’s waste should be managed. For example, on Mount Road, which stretched from Parrys to Tambaram along 30 kilometres, there is not one public toilet. That is where we lack. We have everything on paper. We have policies on source segregation, solid waste management rules, but none of it is implemented.

Amongst the southern states, Vijayawada was awarded India's cleanest city with a population above 10 lakh. Mysuru won the clean city tag, with a population between 3 and 10 lakh. Mangaluru was awarded India's best city in solid waste management in the same category.

Also read: Breaking down TN’s draft coastal management plan and how it could affect you