It is a truth universally acknowleged fact that a hungry man in possession of a good appetite, must visit 'Sarafa' in Indore. Jewellery bazaar by day, street food paradise by night - catering to locals as well as tourists. On this visit, it's the same fabulous Joshiji ke dahiwade and Vijay ki kachori, washed down with a tall glass of shikanji. But something is different.
There is no leftover food, no dirty plates, no garbage to be seen - anywhere.
I am witnessing with my own eyes what the Swachh Sarvekshan Survey had declared on May 4, 2017. Indore is now ranked the cleanest city in India (a massive leap from 149th position in 2014). So, how did this happen? The credit goes to a small but crack team of like-minded, public-spirited people. Fuelled by passion and systematic planning, determined to make it happen.
The story begins long before the launch of the Swachh Bharat mission. Back in 2005, MSW graduate Shrigopal Jagtap joined Indian Grameen Services (IGS), a Section 25 company owned by Basix Microfinance. Jagtap is an amiable young chap who speaks shudh Hindi with a touch of 'Malwi' (a dialect spoken in the Malwa plateau of MP).
"Parivaar mein akela main hi job kar raha hoon," says Jagtap. "Wo bhi in the field of kachra."
The mandate of IGS was to test out various models of development and implement pilot progammes. Thus young Jagtap's first brush with the 'industry' was a project which set up a plastic recycling unit, to augment the income of ragpickers. But the unit was often idle, as ragpickers did not have a reliable source of plastic waste. Nor did they have any rights over it.
Around the same time, new townships were coming up on the outskirts of Indore city. One of them - Mahalaxmi Nagar - asked IGS if the company could handle the colony's solid waste collection. Jagtap and team got residents to segregate their dry and wet waste, making it easier to recycle. This was a first. The township was willing to pay a small fee as well.
"Jaise hum aagey badhte gaye hamne dekha ki iska revenue model bhi bana sakte hai," says Jagtap. Thus, when the pilot was reviewed at the end of its five-year lifecycle in 2012, a new company called Basix Municipal Waste Ventures (BMW) was incorporated. The company started working with small municipal corporations such as Sailana in Ratlam district.
"Hamara emphasis raha hai 100 per cent door-to-door collection."
Firstly, the public was educated to segregate geela and sukha kachra. But more importantly, BMW worked with the very safai karamcharis who were not in the habit of doing their jobs. Between 2012 and 2015, the model was successful in 10 urban townships and 28 municipal councils of Madhya Pradesh, including Ratlam, Naamli, Gautampura, Piploda, Vichitrapur and Badnawar.
At the same time, the commercial hub of Madhya Pradesh - the city of Indore - was resembling a vast, public garbage dump. Stray animals were roaming freely, eating kitchen waste from kachrapetis. Citizens were angry, there had been dharnas and protests. A social activist had gone so far as to file a PIL in the High Court urging the corporation to take waste management seriously.
It was under these circumstances that Malini Laxman Singh Gaud was elected Mayor of Indore, in February 2015. Cleanliness was the plank on which she went to the polls. In May 2015, Manish Singh took over as the Municipal Comm- issioner of Indore. Earlier in his career, Singh had served as Municipal Commissioner of Bhopal, a city with the same problems, though at a smaller scale.
Enter Asad Varsi, of Eco Pro Environmental Services, an entrepreneur working with Indore municipalty, to help recycle plastic kachra. A PhD in the field of waste management and long-time resident of Indore, Varsi saw an administrator open to new ideas and keen to 'do something'. He offered to draw up a comprehensive plan to clean up the city - free of cost.
"The plan focussed on three things - how to make the city bin-free, dust-free and litter-free," says Varsi.
In September 2015, Varsi was appointed as Swachh Bharat consultant for the city of Indore. A survey was conducted, which pin-pointed 1,380 garbage bins, with geo-location tagging, Presentations were made to the commissioner and mayor-in-council. Both were enthusiastic. But how to get a buy-in from the political class at large?
"We came up with a plan of doing the pilot programme in two wards where most of the corporators reside," says Singh. On the recommendation of experts, it was decided to do away with cycle rickshaws and instead use Tata Ace vehicles for door-to-door collection of kachra. BMW was selected as the implementation partner for this exercise.
The results were impressive. "Sab kehne lage hamare ward mein bhi yehi chahiye," says Singh.
Of course, there were lessons learnt as well. The truck had to be lower in height, so the average person could tip in the garbage. Secondly, two separate compartments were needed for dry and wet waste. In consultation with auto companies, a customised vehicle with higher capacity and better hydraulics was designed. Each such vehicle can cover 1,000 households a day.
The bigger challenge was with safai karamcharis - discipline, motivation, work ethic. The 5,500- strong workforce used to register barely 30-40 per cent daily attendance. "Pehle humne associations ko samjhaya," says Varsi. But where needed, hard steps were taken. 300 employees were suspended, over 600 terminated. Biometric attendance was introduced in September 2016.
"There was a lot of resistance, naatak hua," says Singh. "But now we have 90 per cent attendance."
The work ethic has improved dramatically. The 200-strong Basix staff, which is on the field from 7 am to 2 pm, can vouch for this. "Safai mitra ka behaviour ek din ki training se nahin badlega," is Jagtap's practical observation. Neither do they care for uniforms and gloves. It is a daily hand-holding, monitoring and mutual respect, which makes the difference. The same goes for all other stakeholders.
It is a task to get each household to cooperate. The vehicles are equipped with loudspeakers, janta is exhorted to start segregation at home. Initially, there is reluctance, even ladaai-jhagda. But today, when the garbage truck is approaching, people are already waiting at their doors with kachre ka dabba in hand. "Public ka bahut cooperation mila hai," says Mayor Gaud. In fact, the public is so satisfied that households now pay a door-to-door collection fee of `60 per month.
Today, the city of Indore has invested in 400 GPS-linked vehicles undertaking door-to-door collection. The giant bins which stood outside various colonies with rotting garbage have been permanently eliminated. In commerical areas, the corporation arranges for collection twice a day. Every shop or eatery must have a dustbin, any kachra attracts a spot fine of minimum `250.
The other high-impact effort was against Open Defecation (OD). Here again, it was the NGO partner Basix which acted as a bridge with the public. The team came up with the concept of 'dabba gang' which roamed the city from 5 am to 9 am, in search of those who were defecating in the open. "Hamara kaam tha dabba baja kar unko bhagaana? aur samjhaana ki yeh galat hai."
At the same time, the team identified 128 OD spots and did a survey of households to understand the needs of the community. Over 10,000 toilets were subsequently constructed. One happy side-effect is that the incidence of malaria and dengue has fallen drastically. "Doctors keh rahe hain ki bhaiyya patient hi aane band ho gaye hain," says Jagtap, with visible pride.
Various Indian cities have outsourced garbage collection and waste management to private parties - without any visible result. In fact, the city of Indore had signed a seven-year contract with A2Z, which Mayor Malini Gaud terminated for non-performance, soon after she took office. What is different this time is the attitude - and business model - of the implementation partner.
BMW holds the waste collection and processing contract for 45 wards in Indore, which covers 60 per cent of the city. "We do not set up processing plants. We do not invest any capital. Our role is to provide technical assistance, supervision, documentation and public awareness," says Vijay Mahajan, Chairman of Basix.
The company charges a service fee which covers its HR cost and a slim 10 per cent margin. In 2016/17, BMW clocked a modest revenue of `1.65 crore, with a profit of `4-5 lakh. But it's a good start. Jagtap recalls his MSW days when the term 'revenue model' was unheard of. Today, he manages budgets and business planning with ease
"Give me any city, give me infrastructure, give me 90 days - hum sheher badal denge, yeh hamara commitment hai," declares Jagtap.
Going forward, the plan is to make Indore a 'training centre' in the area of waste management. Earlier this year, a group of passionate youngsters from Srinagar spent three months in the city, to learn the tricks of the trade. They will now implement what they observed in Budgam ward of Srinagar. "We don't have a manual," adds Mahajan. "One must adapt as per the local situation."
And to be really effective, the 'CEO' of your city - the municipal commissioner - has to be very passionate, very driven. Get the support of the board (a.k.a. politicians) and work in the interest of shareholders (the citizen). As corporations from across India send officials to 'study' the Indore model, they should prepare to dump their own mental garbage, to make Bharat become truly Swachh.