From a pneumonic plague in 1994 that killed nearly 1,200 people to becoming India’s second cleanest city, Surat’s meteoric rise is a chronicle of the determination of its residents, migrants and an army of municipal workers to make sanitation and cleanliness an inextricable part of their daily life.
Considered among the top ten fastest growing cities in the world, Surat was ranked the second cleanest city for the third consecutive year in the Swachh Survekshan survey 2022 by the Ministry of Housing and Urban affairs.
“Surat is the only city which collects garbage from door to door and even offers incentives to residential societies for waste disposal. It’s also the only city in the country where night cleaning of roads is done,” Banchhanidhi Pani, the outgoing Surat Municipal Commissioner, told The Indian Express.
But cleanliness and sanitation were not the bywords for Surat until the former port city, which has six kilometers of coastline and the river Tapi flowing through it, was jolted by a plague in 1994 that killed hundreds of people and led to a mass migration.
The cause of the disease was traced to overflowing sewers during floods that threw up dead rats on the streets. The city suffered floods again in 2006, which, according to reports by NGOs, was caused due to “faulty urban planning”.
Lessons gleaned from these incidents led to Surat establishing standard operating procedures for public hygiene and cleanliness. The Surat Municipal Corporation, the nodal agency for the city’s governance, put in place the practice of night cleaning of streets, which was a first in Gujarat.
“The floods witnessed by the residents taught them to keep their surroundings clean to prevent any viral infection. Migrants from other states and parts of Gujarat also adopted the same methods, and the municipal corporation too encouraged residents to actively participate in keeping their locality garbage-free,” Pani added.
With an estimated population of over 65 lakh, Surat’s diamond and textile industry has drawn migrants from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha, including a few southern states.
The city also has a huge presence of people hailing from North Gujarat and Saurashtra, who migrated several years ago due to water scarcity and settled in Surat by finding work in the diamond cutting and polishing units, shifting later to the textile and real estate sector. The original inhabitants of the city mostly work in the powerloom sector and gold brocade (jari) units.
While visiting the city last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called Surat “mini Hindustan,” saying the city had come a long way from the time when it was looked down upon for pandemics and floods.
Surat was ranked sixth in the first year of the Swachh Survekshan survey in 2016. It rose to the 4th position in 2017, fell to 14th in 2018 and 2019, and climbed again to the second spot in 2020, where it has stayed put for the third consecutive year.
This year the city scored well in two out of three categories in the survey, but its overall score fell from 92.7 percent to 92.3 percent, Pani said.
“Our score fell from 93 percent to 90.1 percent in the Service Level Progress category. In the certification category, we scored 91.1 percent against 88.9 percent in 2021, while in the Citizen Voice segment we secured 96.5 percent compared to 95.6 percent last year,” Pani said.
Pani, who has been posted in all major cities of Gujarat, said he finds Surat ‘unique’ because its residents are actively involved in development and sanitation of the city.
“Citizens not only participate in different projects but also contribute funds for them. The best example is the well-developed CCTV project that involved installing surveillance cameras across the city connected to a control and command centre. People donated money for it. Even the industries came forward and supported the cause,” he added.
Pani said that Surat has a well established network of collection, treatment and disposal of solid and liquid waste, which is not found in any other city with a population of over 40 lakh.
“Another unique feature of Surat is its tertiary treatment plants where 125 MLD (million litres per day) wastewater is treated and then supplied to the textile dyeing and printing units in Pandesara and Sachin industrial estates in the city. Apart from this, the municipal corporation is also working to provide treated water to multinational companies established in Hazira (an industrial hub and a suburb),” he added.
Paresh Patel, the Standing Committee Chairman of Surat Municipal Corporation, said: “The main reason why Surat achieved the second position in Swachh Survekshan survey again is because of the integrity and dedication of the civic body’s staff.”
“Even after midnight, you will see municipal teams cleaning the roads. We use the latest machinery for cleaning. The public toilets are also regularly maintained and carts selling street food are regulated and organised,” Patel added.
Though Dharmesh Bhanderi, the opposition leader in the Surat Municipal Corporation and an Aam Aadmi Party councillor, said that the ground reality is different.
“There are some places where waste and garbage are still dumped. A drive should be carried out by the ruling party leaders to create awareness among people. Even the banks of the creeks are dirty and smell bad. The BJP leaders have done nothing to fix it,” Bhanderi said, adding that campaigns against the use of plastic should also be started.
How Surat and Indore fared in Swachh Survekshan survey 2022
|Service Level progress||Score (out of 3000)||2704||2702|
|Certification||Score (out of 2250)||2050||2250|
|Citizen Voice||Score (out of 2250)||2717||2195|
|Total Score (Out of 7500)||Total Score (Out of 7500)||6925||7147|