Cleaning the Mental Garbage !

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – says Leo Tolstoy. We believe that we, as citizen and government, need to clean our mental garbage first to bring the change around us!

Sanitation – On Top of the Political Agenda


On the evening of May 16, 2014, it was for the first time in the history, the Prime Minister of India focused on building toilets in his first victory speech. He mentioned that “Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya (First toilet, then temple)”. It was quite a shock for many but it was all about the change in the mindset of development politics. Sanitation space gained a momentum and brought in the topmost political agenda narrated by Honourable Prime Minister of India.

A Curious Case of Indore

A journey of transformation towards a clean India started on October 2, 2014. Amongst the various cities, Indore became a curious case of transforming cities into cleanest cities under its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.


The 500-year-old city, named after an old temple of Lord Indreshwar, served as the capital of the Holkar dynasty from the early 19th century until 1948. Indore is located in the heart of Malwa plateau, which is the Commercial Capital of Madhya Pradesh State. It’s legendary, Devi Ahilyabai Holkar is worshipped as the Mother Goddess of Indore.


Indore is currently the most populated city of Madhya Pradesh with a population of 1.9 million as per the 2011 census. Indore is a rapidly growing city with a higher rate of in-migration with decadal population growth rate of 32.93% during 2001-2011. Indore City has been attracting a high number of migrants since the 1960’s, due to industrialization and growing employment opportunities. The migrated population in the city constitutes 52% of its total population as per the Census 1991. Many poor from the rural and tribal areas, who are not able to secure livelihoods, come to Indore every year and for periods of 8 months to work on construction sites. The Gross Density of the Indore Municipal Area as per Census 2011 is 151 PPHA which high as compared to other cities in Madhya Pradesh.

As per the recent Poverty Mapping Report, there are 1.76 Lakhs Household reside in the 599 Slums and Poor Localities. About one-third of total city population residing in slums and slum-like localities. It is notable fact that during the period of 1971 to 2001 the population has grown 2.95 times while the slum population has grown 4.32 times.

The literacy rate in Indore Municipal area in 1991 was higher than the average all India literacy levels. It is reduced from 82.10% in 2001 to 77.34% in 2011 although female literacy is lower compared to male literacy

Water Supply

The Existing Primary Source of Water supply in Indore is Narmada River in addition to Yeshwant Sagar dam. About 54% of the population residing in the 69 municipal wards presently has access to the piped water supply system while another 26% depend on Public Stand posts. The Frequency of Water supply in Indore is 1 hour a day and at low pressure. The Total Distribution Network of Indore is about 1400 Kms with a Network Gap of 660 Kms.


About 96% of households have access to individual or community toilet facilities, while in slums the toilet coverage is only 85%. Indore city does not have a proper sewage collection and disposal system. About, 245 MLD wastewater generated in the city and only 40 MLD gets treated. The door to door solid waste collection done by Indore MC. About 550 MT of solid waste generated per day in the city.

Institutional Arrangement for various service provisions in Indore


Having Tag Of An Unhealthy City!

“Before 2015, Indore was like any other Indian city with poorly managed water and sanitation infrastructure. The city had decayed over the decades, neglected urban pressure and was pleading for a transformation. There was a lack of ownership by citizens and was believed that it is a duty of Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) for managing the waste of the city”

– Gaurav Vaidya, Urban Planner – Resident of Indore

Indore was in the grip of a plague in the early 20th century. Sir Patrick Geddes proposed that Indore become a garden city and cleaned up, that its rivers be dredged, and its sanitation facilities improved as per the Master plan of 1914-1921. Indore was known for its water bodies. After 1960, Indore becoming one of the worst water-starved cities in India until the Narmada River came to its rescue.

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In 2015, the city of Indore was famous for its public garbage dump. Citizens were annoyed with their government and agitated with full of protests, litigation against the corporation to take waste management seriously. Under these circumstances, Mrs. Malini Laxman Singh Gaur was elected Mayor of Indore, in February 2015. Safe sanitation was the promise on which she went to the polls.

Change of Tag: Dirty City to Cleanest City

Effective Leadership


Under the leadership of the mayor of the city, the commissioner of Indore, NGOs and citizens, all came together and took a pledge to make their city clean and beautiful. However, the situation was challenging and demanding. The situation of transforming the city into a clean and beautiful city demanded its four piers (Mayor- political leader, Bureaucracy- the commissioner, NGO and its Citizens) to work continuously until the tag of the cleanest city of India is achieved.

The most challenging part of this transformation was to make citizens aware of good sanitation practices. The visionary lady mayor Mrs. Gaur decided to do this by relentlessly educating the citizens and involving them in the process of change. The four piers did not leave any stone unturned to make this possible.

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[A snap of Mayor Mrs. Gaur distributing car-dustbin to the driver]

IMC conducted public rallies, meetings with self-help groups, resident welfare associations, religious leaders, automobile companies, transgender, public and private offices, elderly people, slum dwellers, and students.

IMC took the medium of art to narrate their goals to all their citizens. Street plays, drawings in public area, drawing competitions in schools and colleges did the work of spreading knowledge and change for them. They tried to bring this change by involving each sector of the citizens (gender, race, class, and caste).

IMC provided all the necessary infrastructure (physical and social) for the change to happen. This was important to gain the trust of people and their satisfaction level.

It’s All About the Mindset!

“We are now called as ‘Swaccha Mitra’: friend of people and not sweepers/cleaners.

We came from the most deprived section of the society. Now things have changed. This is the big mind set change. It’s a proud moment for us that we are the forces behind the city transformation. Our voices are being heard now by people. People do segregate the dry and wet waste. The public is so satisfied that they regularly pay a door-to-door collection fee.”

– Swachh Mitra, IMC (Interview was taken by Gaurav Vaidya, a resident of Indore)


The high-impact effort was against Open Defecation (OD). IMC 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.

Instead of punishing the residents, The IMC team did a survey of households who were defecating openly in 128 locations. The IMC team tried to understand the needs of the community. In responding to the demand from the community, over 10,000+ individual toilets were constructed in various slum locations as per the demand.

“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 (Doctors are reporting reduction in number of patients)”

–  Jagtap, Head of consulting firm with visible pride

Behavior change was definitely the key to Indore’s success, and the song “Ho halla”, encouraged locals to join the movement for a cleaner town. The song is constantly played by sanitation trucks throughout their trash collection rounds, is said to have been the Secret Ingredient to uniting residents as equal partners in the city’s cleanliness mission. This feeling of togetherness is what the locals call “APAN.”​

A Journey of an Unhealthy City to the Cleanest City of India!

“I am a food lover from Delhi. Indore is known as Mini Mumbai and famous for its food. I visited Sarafa Bazaar to enjoy its delicious food in January 2018. To my surprise, there was no leftover food, no dirty plates, no garbage to be seen – anywhere. I have witnessed with my eyes the cleanliness drive undertook jointly by commercial vendors, residents and IMC. I was impressed!”

– Jyoti Dash, Research Fellow, Sanitation Capacity Building Programme, NIUA, Delhi

Cleanliness Index of India: 149th in 2014 to 1st in 2017

From being placed 149th in a cleanliness ranking of India’s cities in 2014, Indore Municipal Corporation climbed to the 25th position in 2016, and to the top of the heap consecutively for two years in 2017 and 2018. In three years, this commerce-driven city has seen a complete transformation. 

The journey does not end here: Is Indore really the cleanest city?

 Voice to be heard from poor neighborhood

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About one third city population resides in a poor neighborhood. Despite the fact that, Indore has become the cleanest city, there is some dark side attached to it which is not visible through a regular lens. The lens to see these indifferences, inequalities have to be very critical and analytical. In spite of being an example of good governance in the past and in current times, the distribution of power has always been present there. To explain this distribution, a slum Buri Tekri is an excellent example. The residents of this slum are being evicted forcefully without even having adequate transit dwellings. The residents have to live without a roof and other basic facilities of water, sanitation, and electricity.

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Another example of the distribution of power also depicts that to show a beautiful picture of the city and to retain its number 1 position, the residents have been given temporary toilet facilities which are even being removed once the city got its glorious number 1 position in the country. The city government has not only violated human rights but has also hurt the sentiments of the slum dwellers which becomes very important during the elections.

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Women hailing from low income/poor community have to be perseverant to be heard by the authorities (the powerful people). Distribution of voice from such areas and high income/ influential areas are unlike and inaudible. In one of the slums situated in the peri-urban area of Indore, the residents had to be consistent with their plea to be noticed by the ward councilor of that area. The residents were asking for basic facilities of roads, water yet they were kept deprived unless they learned the way of being consistent with their powerful people to be heard. Eventually they won and the ward councilor had to listen to their plea, however, their journey to have listened was not easy and simple. They got help from their neighboring communities and an organization to be trained and mentored to learn the process of writing petitions in order to be heard. They learned that perseverant negotiation is the key in the world where the distribution of voices is with the people who have power.

Focus on improving health conditions of Sanitation workers

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Indore city is ranked as No. 1 in the past Swachhta Survekshan (Cleanliness Survey) under the Clean India Mission, it becomes all the more necessary to look into the health problems and safety practices of the sanitation workers who keep this city clean. The study was conducted in 2017 on Health Problems among Sanitation Workers in Indore City. The sanitation workers make up the most underappreciated workforce in society even after doing their job. The result shows that 71% of sanitation workers were in the age group of 31-49 years, and the majority(63%) were females. 96% suffered from one or a combination of health problems; most common being respiratory problems (87%). Awareness about personal protective equipment (PPE) was present among 85% study population; none (0%) used them. 98% stated that they would use PPE if provided by IMC. Only 57% consulted a doctor in case of sickness. There is a high prevalence of health problems among sanitation workers. There is a presence of a wide gap between the knowledge/attitude and practices of sanitation workers regarding protective gear. Strategies to improve the monitoring and treatment of illness and injuries at the workplace must be done. This study clearly sends the message that IMC needs to focus on improving the health and safety measures for their staff.

In a nutshell, for a city to be tagged and retained as number 1, it has to be inclusive and should provide facilities to each section/class of the city equitably. It is not only for the common man to clean their mental garbage but also for the government/ authority to clean their mental garbage for the unprivileged section of the city.   Indore cannot claim to be the cleanest city unless the basic water and sanitation services are reached without any discrimination based on class, caste, religion, gender etc.

“Cleanliness is a Habit; Cleanliness is a Festival; Cleanliness is Nothing but Clearing the Mental Garbage and Building the Sanitised Country.” 


Tariqul Islam (Bangladesh), Dhruv Bhavsar (India), Ankita Gupta (India), Sagar Gupta (India), Suman Dhun Shrestha (Nepal) – currently studying MSc Sanitation in IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in partnership with UNESCO.



















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