A number of fascinating stories are associated with the city of Mysuru, like the battle between Mahishasura and Chamundeshwari, the curse that haunts the Wodeyar dynasty and the heroic exploits of Tipu Sultan. Of late, however, the biggest story from Mysuru has been its selection as the cleanest city in India for the second consecutive year. Mysuru was declared so after Swachh Survekshan 2016, a survey of 73 cities conducted in January by the ministry of urban development.
The roots of Mysuru's success lie in the policies of its erstwhile rulers. In recognition, the city corporation has chosen Maharani Pramoda Devi and her adopted son, Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar, as the brand ambassadors for its Swachh Mysuru campaign. It is supported by audio and video jingles in cinema halls, messages flashed in a fleet of 480 GPS-enabled buses, SMS campaigns and caller tune messages across 345 helplines, awareness campaigns on campuses, a toilet locator app for tourists and a network of 200 wireless sets to check illegal dumping of building debris and animal carcasses.
After winning the award, the city administration and the citizens are predictably elated. But they are also worried as they realise that scoring a hat-trick is possible only with drastic and systemic changes. “The award has raised the bar for us. The burden of expectation should make us more competitive and not complacent,” says C.G. Betsurmath, commissioner of Mysore City Corporation (MCC). His anxiety stems from the fact that it is no longer fund crunch, but the dearth of trained and committed people that could be a challenge. And most Mysoreans feel that a long spell of coalition politics in the MCC, poor planning and pilferage have weakened the civic delivery system.
N. Chandra Prakash, president of the Mysore Grahakara Parishat, a consumer organisation, says his biggest worry is that the administration might become complacent. “The city had visionary rulers. But too little has been done after that. The ranking is only relative. We must work on evolving a better system and technology and build accountability,” he says.
Mysuru's successful cleanliness drive has been effectively supported by the city's 2,297 pourakarmikas (sanitation workers). But most of them, especially the ones on contract, are denied better wages and suffer from poor working conditions. Pushpalatha, a sanitary worker, says she walks three kilometres each morning to work. A mother of two girls, she works from 6.30am to 2pm for a salary of Rs 7,000 (the contractor claims to be depositing her employee insurance and provident fund contributions). "We have no holidays. Our weekly off is split into two half-days, when we work till 11 am. My husband is a casual labourer and we end up borrowing to meet our household expenses,” says Pushpalatha.
Kuppamma, a sweeper on contract, says the Swachh Bharat campaign will succeed only if people are sensitised. “People litter the streets and expect us to clean it up,” she says. “They complain to the corporation if garbage collection is delayed. But despite having coded bins, they refuse to segregate waste and abuse us if we insist that they should do so.”
Sanitation workers are having a tough time as their salaries are not being paid regularly. Contract workers suffer the worst as they are not eligible for benefits. Often, they are not given implements like spades or trays to pick waste. “We are forced to buy masks, caps and uniform on our own,” says Gangamma, a worker.
Another challenge faced by the city is the inadequate functioning of the zero waste management units. Of nine units, only one is functional, although all of them have been provided land, employees, auto tippers, shredding machines and composting tanks. Arun Kumar, secretary of the Federation of Mysore City Ward Parliament, which runs the unit at Kumbarakoppal, says in his plant, wet waste is composted using cow dung slurry, while dry waste is sorted and segregated into 26 categories. “The recyclable waste is sold to re-processors and compost to farmers.”
Chandra Prakash says it was a sheer waste of funds to have spent 160 lakh on building each zero waste management unit. “The one that functions sells recyclable plastic, but falters in composting. Farmers are made to pick up semi-processed compost, which is hazardous and a violation [of rules], too,” he says.
As the zero waste management units are not functioning properly, Mysuru is forced to depend on sanitary landfills, an outdated practice. “Of 402 tonnes of waste generated daily, only 200 tonnes reach the central composting plant and zero waste management units. The rest continues to be dumped in the landfill. We have proposed two more composting plants to reduce the quantum of waste reaching the landfills,” says Dr D.G. Nagaraj, health officer of the corporation.
Mysuru, however, scores big with its underground drainage system, which the great chief engineer Sir M. Visvesvaraya built in the late 19th century with gravity flow. “The city became free from open defecation long ago, thanks to the erstwhile leaders, who built a modern city with an underground drainage network. Their focus on building educational institutions developed a culture of civility and cleanliness,” says Betsurmath.
A network of 1,560km of drainage lines covers 98 per cent of the city, and sewage water runs to three treatment plants (aerated lagoons) at Kesare, Vidyaranyapuram and Rayankere. The plants were developed using funds from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and they treat 157.6 million litres a day. Says executive engineer D.L. Raju, “Though we are happy with the current system, we need to upgrade technology as lagoons require more land and provide only secondary treatment.”
The corporation has mooted a Rs 650-crore project to modernise the plants, as the city's population is projected to grow to 20 lakh by 2030. Enhancing capacity and adopting better technology are the priorities. Raju says the Swachh Bharat Mission should focus on funding innovations like using waste to power energy plants and newer recycling technologies.
“What gets measured, gets done. Competition makes us strive better,” said M. Venkaiah Naidu, Union minister for urban development, while announcing the winners of the clean city contest. Mysuru can continue to be a role model if it can scale up further and not fall prey to a false sense of accomplishment.