Dumpster Dive – Sikkim’s worrisome decline in Swachh Survekshan rank
Sikkim, a small state with the area of 7096 sq Kms, high up at the altitude of 5,840 ft and her capital Gangtok, is deemed picturesque and clean. The population of about 6.10 Lakhs who speak Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi, and a smattering of other local languages all know the slogan “Clean Sikkim, Green Sikkim.”
Sikkim has seen a drop in its cleanliness, and the numbers are to show for it, in the last five years, the dive, with so many cleanliness drives, awareness campaigns, door to door education, and the Swacch Bharat Movement that has been stressed and carried out with zest and zeal in the past five years have seen to be ironical. The state’s ranking has gone down rather abysmally.
The Swachh Survekshan is an annual cleanliness survey in India that began in 2016 with the first survey encompassing the year 2015-2016. Its operating matrices are cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in cities and towns across India. It was launched as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, aiming to make India clean and free of open defecation.
The first survey was undertaken in 2016 and covered 73 cities (53 cities with a population of over a million, and all state capitals. The survey carried out by the Quality Council of India and weighs and ranks states and their cities in India.
The Union Ministry of Urban Development commissioned an extensive survey to study the progress of Swachh Bharat Mission and to rank 73 cities on sanitation and cleanliness. This was the birth of Swachh Survekshan. It covered all state capitals and another 53 cities with a population of above one million.
It involved three streams of data collection – interaction with the municipal body, direct observation and citizen feedback. Swachh Sarvekshan evaluated the work done in the following six measurable aspects of sanitation and hygiene:
• Strategy for Open Defecation Free town (ODF) and Integrated Solid Waste Management (SWM)
• Information, Education and Behaviour Change Communication (IEBC) activity
• Sweeping, door to door collection and transportation (of solid waste)
• Processing and disposal (of solid waste)
• Provision of public & community toilet seats
• Construction of household individual toilets
The QCI, in 2020 under Swachh Survekshan covered 4242 cities and towns, including more than 5 Lakh ULB Document Evidence captured, more than 24 Lakh Geotagged Photos captured from field and feedback from 1.9 crore people.
The Survey in 2020 was weighted on 6000 points. The criteria and weights for different components of sanitation-related aspects used for the survey were:
a) Service Level Progress-1300 marks
b) Citizen feedback – 1500 marks
c) Direct observation – 1500 marks
d)GFC (SWM) 1,000 Marks; ODF /ODF+ / ODF++ 500 Marks
e) Average ranking of Quarterly Assessments (April 2019 to June 2019, July 2019 to Sep 2019, Oct 2019 to Dec 2019)-200 Marks (This was recently included)
The campaign for a clean Sikkim began with the former CM, Pawan Kumar Chamling initiating multiple steps from plastic bans to organic farming. The campaign began in 2005 with the first acknowledgement of its success coming in 2008 when the Government of India bestowed the state with the Nirmal Rajya award, a national honour for cleanliness.
Sikkim’s capital Gangtok is the only city that goes on to the survey board and is the face of the state. From once being on 8th to now at 319th in the ranking list, is a nosedive. Once the cleanest state in India, and Gangtok as the 8th cleanest city, the question of why this has come to be the case is one that every citizen, from politicians to dumpster divers, should be asking.
A concerned citizen wrote on social media:
“So no state media, activists or so-called social media influencer are going to talk, or question the authority regarding the declining national ranking of Gangtok in Swachh Survekshan. This ranking indirectly speakers about the health of the city. The objective is to make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) along with 100% scientific solid waste management. It has a deep impact on health, livelihoods, quality of life and behavior, which proved to be very helpful while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic as well.
In Swachh Survekshan 2020, in order to ensure continuous assessment and sustainability of on-ground performance of cities, the Government had also introduced Swachh Survekshan League, a quarterly cleanliness assessment of cities and towns conducted across three quarters, with 25 per cent weightage integrated into the final Swachh Survekshan results. Apart from Swachh Survekshan league, the overall survey carries 6,000 marks equally divided into citizen feedback, direct observation, certification for garbage and open defecation free (ODF), ODF plus and ODF plus cities, and service level progress (1,300 marks) and the average score of Swachh Survekshan league 2020 (200 marks).
Appreciation to the Singtam Nagar panchayat for featuring in the Northeast zone (self-sustainable city) with less than 25000 population category. However, they were not in the top of the list in the said category in the NE zone.
Regarding the solid waste management and treatment, “Out of sight, out of mind” is the typical reaction to the problem by Sikkimese people. Photo op event for cutting a few wild grasses and plugging weeds, clicking photo and video, burning collected trash will do more harm and we think in the long run. It will discourage the inculcation of the behavioral changes among the citizen that this program is trying to bring.
Such photo op short term gratification will actually make people think that dilution is the solution to the problem. We can do much, much better than this; it seems our citizen is aware of the problem; however, the right direction seems missing.”
It is a place of worry for Sikkimese people, and for a state with the majority of citizens having the temperament of being kind, helpful, and thoughtful towards the environment and surroundings, the drop in the rank in the Swachh Survekshan is thought-provoking.
“It is the duty of each and every citizen of Sikkim to be fully aware of what we waste and where we throw it. Or if it really needs to be thrown or not, people have forgotten that is not petty or downtrodden to keep some things and use them again. I would say it is rather a trait of a great person who thinks of their land, and I am not talking about patriotism but empathy towards mother Earth,” says the State Advisor of Voice, an environmental NGO.
He adds, “There has to be a way out here, because the government is doing their bit, and we cannot blame the pandemic for this drop in rank, we have been dropping since way before the pandemic we were at the highest ebb in 2016. Since then it has been unpleasing. We know that the government is doing their bits because it has been our field of work, there are newer bio gas plants, newer projects on the way, and the work of segregation is also been done in a moderately good way. I’d say the citizens, not all of them, are at fault, and we really need to think about our habits when it comes o waste and then do something to rectify our literal toxic habits,”
“People know what organic is and people know a green lifestyle, if that is possible here then a zero-waste state is hundred per-cent possible, and I believe if achieved, Sikkim can be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” Pritam Pany, the founder of Voyage had said in an interview with Sikkim Chronicle, with high hopes.
In Sikkim, 50 tonnes of waste gets dumped in the Martam landfill, and that is just from the East. Sikkim has several things to tackle in terms of achieving being a zero-waste state, from policies, infrastructure, and social coordination. Its underlying issue of social coordination needs to be set in stone to achieve proper waste management. Various NGOs conduct awareness campaigns, clean-ups and protests asking for a cleaner world, with a more responsible and accountable society, but seldom know about the policies that have been ratified by the government.
It is not just the hardware and policies that solve the problem of waste and dirtiness, as observed by many environmentalists in Sikkim and many that have worked here. People don’t know about the hardware that the government is installing, and the government doesn’t know what the citizens are doing in most cases, so there’s evidence that though lacking in social coordination, Sikkim’s intentions are true to her being a nature-loving state.
“There’s only one way to rectify this problem,” says Susan, an engineer and environmentalist, “one way and it is you, every person should be aware, and honestly every person knows that it is bad, but we must change our habits.”
He adds, “the waste should be segregated at the house itself, and then sent to proper dumping places so the waste can be utilized and the waste that remains should be minimum, if everyone is aware of what waste they are producing and where they are throwing it 90% of the problem is rectified there, the other 10% and more is anyway taken care by the government workers.”