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Surat - a success story

The rapid urbanisation and rise in population in Surat led to the growth of slums, increase in garbage and overflowing drains. In 1994, Surat was struck by an outbreak of a virulent disease somewhat like the plague. The disease caused panic countrywide and while the citizens blamed the municipality, the civic authorities in turn blamed the citizens for their lack of civic sense. It was a harsh reminder of what negligence in the area of solid waste management can lead to.

But what was most amazing was that within a span of 18 months the city made a complete reversal from a dirty, garbage-strewn city to become one of the cleanest cities in the country. This transformation was possible thanks largely to the Surat Municipal Corporation and the efforts of the community. Community participation played a key role in the rapid implementation of decisions taken by the corporation.

Subsequent to the disaster, the attitudes of the citizens changed and they diligently tried to improve its living conditions. Institutional changes were the first thing to happen. The city was divided into six zones to decentralize the responsibilities for all civic functions. A commissioner was appointed for each zone with additional powers. The officials responsible for solid waste management were made accountable for their work; and field visits were made mandatory for them each day. The solid waste management department and other related departments were made to work and cooperate with one another. Grievance redressal cards were issued to people so that complaints could be registered. The complaint was attended to within 24 hours and the card returned to the citizen. In addition to the administrative changes, the changed laws had an important role to play in improving the conditions by also making the citizens aware of and responsible for certain preventive actions. Indeed, these are some of the very basic changes that need to be introduced in the functioning of all urban local bodies. Initially, the Gujarat Government’s Municipal Act did not have any provision to penalize littering. However, after the plague, the government realized that it was important to impose such a penalty in order to make people aware of their responsibility in maintaining their city’s cleanliness. Thereafter, a fine of Rs 50 was imposed for every offence of littering and it was doubled for every subsequent offence. The city roads were swept twice a day and the corporation, in an appreciable attempt, has engaged private sweepers to cover different inner areas of the town. Private contractors are also actively involved in the transport, collection, and disposal of solid waste.

With this vigorous cleanliness drive through regular garbage collection and sweeping of roads and other public areas undertaken by the municipal corporation, success was achieved. But this successful turnaround could not have been achieved without the support and cooperation of the people. Surat has thus become a model city and the working of its municipality an example for other municipal corporations to follow and implement in their respective cities.