SDC Foundation conducted the second edition of SDC Dialogs, a premier webinar series bringing domain experts together on one platform, to discuss issues pertaining to environmental conservation, urban governance and citizen engagement.

The second edition of this Dialog was held on 29 August 2020. Themed ‘Decoding Swachh Survekshan 2020: Perspectives from Grassroots’, it invited key stakeholders and enablers from the waste management sector, to weave an informed conversation on different issues connected to Swachh Survekshan, India’s nation-wide cleanliness campaign that is currently being reviewed and formulated for its 6th edition, for the year 2021.

The panelists present in the talk included Anil Prakash, Deputy Team Leader and Lead Monitoring at Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India; Swati Singh Sambyal, Waste Management Specialist – UN Habitat India; Shrigopal Jagtap, Head of Solid Waste Management & Sanitation at Basix Municipal Waste Ventures Ltd. in Indore; and Roshan Raturi, Chairman, Muni ki Reti Municipal Council, Uttarakhand.

Rishabh Srivastava from SDC Foundation moderated the panel.

The narrative of the talk followed some key developments of the Swachh Survekshan itself, right from 2015 up to its most recent edition held in 2020, the results of which were released on 20 August 2020. It also debated different concerns about the nation-wide survey results, the primary ones being whether the survey results can be considered accurate, to what extent has the survey been impactful up until now, and what kind of preparations are underway for a better edition of the survey in 2021.

According to Anil Praksh, the Swachh Surveskshan was an important leap to develop India into an Open Defecation Free country with strong solid waste management systems in place. There was a need to educate people and unite cities towards this common purpose, something that had always been lacking.

In the first five years of the survey, tremendous improvements have been made in the waste management sector in India, with waste processing in the country rising from just 14% in 2014 to almost 68% in 2020. That is a giant stride of success for the annual nation-wide survey and campaign.

Swati Singh Sambyal, a leading specialist in Waste Management and currently working with the country office of UN Habitat India, stated that change was not just in visible cleanliness, it was also deeply rooted in the cultures of all the cities that sincerely participated in making the survey a success – India is no longer recognised as a ‘dirty’ country where waste management is impossible; the picture has now evolved, and behaviour change is showing at the grassroots.

She also stated with emphasis the need for such conversations around waste management to be continued because it is now time that ‘Swachhata’ becomes the new normal.

Indore, a city that has ranked first for four consecutive years in the Swachh Survekshan survey is a solid example of public participation and behaviour change. The city currently is a leading example for all other municipalities in the nation. Just a few days after the results of the 2020 survey, and it is already gearing up for a solid performance at the 2021 Swachh Survekshan, where it intends to go from zero-waste events to zero waste wards.

Shrigopal Jagtap, the head of Solid Waste Management & Sanitation from Basix Municipal Waste Ventures Ltd., Indore, shared why the city has been doing this well every year. He underlined 100% source segregation as the most important practice in the city, followed by public cooperation with the administration, something that has been tediously achieved over the years, by visible fieldwork and on-ground participation of the city’s commissioners and administration, hand in hand with the public.

Roshan Raturi, Chairman of Muni ki Reti, a ULB that has ranked as the cleanest city in Himalayan Uttarakhand for the last three years, explained the reason behind the achievement. For an urban local body (ULB) with a floating population of more than 1 lakh he said, it was important to motivate and mobilise not just the citizens but also the city’s prominent tourism sector which had a major interest in keeping the city clean due to their particular business interests. Therefore, aside from source segregation, Muni ki Reti assigns a huge part of its success to its successful citizen engagement campaigns and events.

(Union Minister for Urban Development, Hardeep Singh Puri, in the center, announcing Swachh Survekshan 2020 results. Pic credits: Hardeep Singh Puri/Twitter)

The Dialog also focused on the measures underway for 2021’s edition of the survey.

As illustrated beautifully by Swati Sambyal, end to end source segregation should be given a lot of prominence; the major question to ponder upon here is, after segregation, are we ensuring that the waste is not getting contaminated at some point? Should we set up systems that support end to end waste segregation?

Then there is the matter of informal waste management – how much is the informal workforce connected with the waste management sector? National schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Aayushman Bharat have contributed significantly to the integration of regular workers with the system. However, there remains a scope to do better and yield more positive results for the informal sector that forms the backbone of the waste management initiatives in India.

In the era of Covid-19, the process of waste management has taken a shift, and this point was also highlighted in the discussion. The panelists stressed on the importance of dry waste management and the increased need for the same in the light of Covid-19.

The pandemic has resulted in a lot of households and hospitals churning out biomedical waste. It has also led to a major slowdown in the plastic ban processes of many cities. This situation dictates a need to ramp up methods for dry waste management, as that is still an area unexplored by many, as against wet waste management which has been stressed upon in each Swachh Survekshan for the past five years.

SDC Dialog 2.0 thus ended on a fulfilling note, with several key takeaways about successful waste management practices adopted that have been tested and tried. It also spoke in-depth about the parameters to be ensured for 2021’s edition of the survey, and the importance of continuing the ongoing nation-wide dialog on the need for making the country waste-free and clean.

Watch the full discussion here.

Stay tuned for the next edition of SDC Dialogues.

(By: Upasana Ray)

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