The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi launching the cleanliness drive for Swacch Bharat Mission from Valmiki Basti, in New Delhi on October 02, 2014.

Modi’s Clean India campaign – don’t waste the opportunity

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister (PM) of India, launched the Swacch BharaAbhiyan (Clean India campaign) on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Senior government officials, politicians and Bollywood actors were seen holding brooms in their hands cleaning neighbourhoods and getting photographed. The twitterati was abuzz with excitement. The campaign was filled with images and messages.

The PM aims to have a Clean India by the time of Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019.

The campaign is timely but will it be effective?

India generates more than 150,000 tonnes of waste every day and is projected to be one of the largest waste generators in the world by 2030 (PDF). Open dumping and open burning of waste is rampant in large cities. The health and environmental impacts are well known: improper waste management causes vector borne diseases, such as malaria, as well as pollution of ground water.

At the same time waste management provides livelihoods to hundreds of thousands of people. Estimates suggest that India has more than 1.5 million people whose livelihoods depend directly or indirectly on waste.

Waste management in India – problem or opportunity?

The Government of India launched a $20 billion National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM) in 2008 (PDF). A key component of the NURM was to improve solid waste management. The first round of the NURM funding cycle is over and the results have not been very encouraging. Part of the problem with the approach was the focus to identify formal private concessionaires who would be responsible for waste management. It was assumed that the private sector would be successful where the government has failed. The PM?s campaign is one of the indicators of limited results of the NURM.

So what can be done differently?

Waste, much like its composition, is a complex challenge. The starting point for understanding the complexity of the problem and associated challenges is to recognise the multiplicity of actors, interests, technologies and narratives. The complex interplay between the actors and their interest and how they play out under different narratives (and technologies) is critical for any intervention. A stark example is the uneasy relationship between the large numbers of informal recyclers and the local government responsible for waste management (PDF).

In most cities, although the informal sector provides key services for waste management it is not a part of the formal waste management narrative. By not resolving this uneasy relationship, and attempting to privatise waste management, the local governments have shifted the burden on to the formal private sector. At the same time, the informal sector has struggled to find a stable role in formal waste management.

The Clean India campaign’s success depends on recognizing the multiple interests which could drive or block its implementation.

This recognition is critical because these actors can bring in different skills, capacities and finances which would be vital for the success of the campaign. At the same time, it should be recognised that no single actor is be able to make the campaign successful.

The alliances which would be crucial for the campaign’s success include a range of actors with different skills and interests, such as:

  • The informal sector: widespread collection, reuse and repair networks interested in preservation of their livelihoods
  • The formal private sector: companies with access to finance for setting up state-of-the-art infrastructure and interested in maximizing profits.
  •  The city managers: able to convene various interests and actors and interested in a clean city.

The critical element would be to identify this diversity of actors and interests and develop city-based approaches. The Clean India campaign, much like the NURM, might have challenges to deliver what it promises with a one size fit all approach. Also, it must learn from the experiments which have succeeded in involving the informal sector in formal waste management in cities like Pune, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi.

Mr. Modi’s campaign has tried to portray the individual in a city as a potential driver for a Clean India. However, the efforts of a motivated citizenry would need the support of an infrastructure that facilitates behaviour change. The campaign provides an opportunity to start thinking afresh about waste management. And critical to thinking afresh is to understand the political economy of waste.

Ashish Chaturvedi is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. He has over 14 years of professional experience and specialises in climate change mitigation, waste management, sustainable consumption and production, and environmental policy. 

This blog was original published on Globalisation and Development.

Image Credits: Press Information Bureau (Government of India)

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