How Indore became the cleanest city of India

Indore has been adjudged the cleanest city of India consecutively for three years by the urban development ministry. The city is likely to top the list this year as well. I recently visited Indore and roamed the streets for three days to observe the distinct measures taken by the Indore Municipal Corporation that catapulted the city to become India's cleanest. Ideally, a city is deemed to be genuinely clean if it fulfils the following five parameters:

  1. 100% sewerage system with total recycling of treated sewage preferably for irrigation
  2. 100% solid waste management system with total recycling of waste products
  3. Effective drainage system coupled with water harvesting of rainfall run-off;
  4. Paving or grassing of raw surfaces between road edges and building lines;
  5. Daily sweeping of roads and streets ensuring zero spread of solid waste.

Indore fulfils all these essential parameters with a percentage varying 80-95. This sanitary revolution has been brought about by the pioneering work done by two intrepid municipal commissioners (Manish Singh and Asheesh Singh) and Mayor Malini Laxmansingh Gaur. Asheesh Singh visits each zone daily in the morning to check the work of the sanitary staff.

Indore has a population of 30 lakh and consists of 85 wards that have been grouped into 20 zones. All roads are being kept clean. Sand, dust, plastic waste or any other litter are simply not there. In fact, it's so clean that one starts to wonder can such a revolution take place in India?

Sweeping work

The corporation has employed 8,500 sweepers for the entire city except wider roads. Sweeping of roads is done with the help of motorised vehicles operated by an outsourced agency. Sweeping in commercial areas is done thrice a day, whereas sweeping in residential areas happens once a day. Growth of bushes of different species at the top of road medians gives a kaleidoscopic view. The large army of sweepers is managed by safai darogas, sanitary inspectors and health officers. Monitoring and coordination is done by the control room team through the online system.

Solid waste management

As many as 470 specifically designed vehicles have been procured to collect solid waste from all 85 wards, and transport the same to 10 transfer stations. Each vehicle driver has been assigned his beat of collection area, along with the route map. The house owner has to divide the waste in three parts: kitchen waste, dry waste and hazardous waste (sanitary pads, expired medicines, etc). The vehicle, too, has three compartments. The vehicle helper ensures the house owner drops the waste in the right compartments.

Hazardous waste is picked up mechanically in a capsule (a 15-feet-long cylindrical drum) and transported to the incinerator located at a specific site for burning. Dry waste is also compressed and picked up mechanically in a second capsule. The capsule is lifted and placed on the chassis of the vehicle and transported to waste-handling plants. Similarly, wet waste is transported to a composting plant next to the dry waste handling plant located outside the city.

There are two dry waste handling plants each with a capacity of handling 300 tonnes of solid waste per day. The first plant is fully automatic and is installed and maintained by an outsourced agency. It segregates dry waste into 12 categories and converts these into bales, which are then sent to different industries for various uses. For example, high-calorific value waste is sent to the cement industry to be used as fuel. The second waste handling plant is maintained by the corporation on similar lines, except that segregation is done manually. The composting plant converts wet waste into manure, which is then purchased by neighbouring farmers at the rate of `2 per kg. The corporation has also set up a biomethanation plant of 20-tonne capacity to generate methane gas and then produce electricity.

This is how the entire solid waste of Indore is managed and converted into wealth. One must note that, in 2017, 13 lakh tonnes of solid waste was lying in the form of a big mound before the commissioning of these plants. Special machines were employed to segregate metallic waste, and the remaining solid waste was pulverised and spread in the form of a sanitary landfill. It was followed by planting 1 lakh saplings. The area has now turned into a beautiful park.

Sewerage system

Indore has already achieved the milestone of an ODF (open-defecation-free) city. While most of the city has an efficient sewerage system, areas where low-income residents stay currently have sanitary latrines. The total domestic sewage flow is 350 mld (million litres per day), which is treated in three STPs (sewage treatment plants) with latest technologies including tertiary treatment of chlorination. The final effluent has a BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) of a low 11 ppm, against the requirement of 30. The treated effluent is discharged into the Kanha tributary, which then joins the Chambal river and is finally used for power generation and irrigation through the Rana Pratap Sagar Dam.

Drainage system

Indore is almost entirely covered with a drainage system, and the drains do not get choked because of the absence of solid waste on roads and streets. The entire drainage network ends up in an outfall storm sewer that discharges into the Kanha. The efficient drainage system prevents water logging even during the rainy season.

Water harvesting

A systematic campaign of providing water harvesting units in individual houses and institutional areas has been launched successfully, and 15,000 households have installed water harvesting units so far and monitoring of these units is done digitally by the control room during rainy days.

Paving of streets

The surface area between road edges and building lines of houses and shops has been paved to the extent of 95% alongside major roads. Paving percentage varies 75-95% in residential area streets and alongside roads in outer parts of the city. The leftover raw surfaces are kept well consolidated, and so there is no dust even on windy days, but these create slippery conditions during rains and muddy rainwater flow. Paving of these areas can further enhance sanitation levels.

Status of vacant plots

There are vacant plots both in residential areas and alongside outer roads. The sanitary staff ensures zero dumping of solid waste in these plots, even though there is wild growth. The corporation will do well if it makes it mandatory for plot owners to build boundary walls and maintain plots in the form of a green belt.

Maintenance expenditure

The annual expenditure of total sanitation of Indore is `550 crore per year. This amount is realised from people in the form of user charges, which have been fixed based on plot area of the buildings. It has been observed that people deposit the amount online on a regular basis.

These steps have ensured the Indore Municipal Corporation has been able to keep the city neat and clean round the year, and these steps are neither complex nor complicated. It is hoped municipal commissioners of other corporations in India pay a visit to Indore and replicate the success story in their areas.

(By RN Malik. The author,  is former engineer-in-chief, Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation)