The act of cleanliness can be an economic activity, contributing to GDP, reducing healthcare costs and also a source of employment
“Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya (toilet first, temple later).” These were the words of Narendra Modi at a gathering in October 2013 in the run up to the 2014 general elections. And when he got elected as the Prime Minister last year, he launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
A campaign for cleanliness is not new for India. It began in 1986 with the Central Rural Sanitation Programme aimed at improving sanitation standards in rural areas and providing privacy and dignity to women. It morphed into the Total Sanitation Campaign in 1999 with a focus on increasing awareness and generation of demand for sanitation facilities. This was re-branded as the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan during the UPA regime. And now we have the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
India is dirty and polluted, there is no denying this. India is also home to the largest slum in Asia. Conditions outside the slums are not good either. According to the UN, India has the largest number of people defecating in the open—597 million. Air and water quality is in no better state. MN Murty and Surender Kumar, in an IDFC report, point that 70% of India’s surface water resources are contaminated and a growing share of its ground water resources is falling prey to contamination. According to WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution rankings, India ranks ninth in terms of air pollution—Delhi is the world’s most polluted city and 13 of the most polluted cities happen to be in India (see table). These are a few facts that reaffirm India is unclean.
The Prime Minister mentioned that, according to WHO, an average of R6,500 per person was lost due to the lack of cleanliness and hygiene. A 2013 World Bank study reported that environmental degradation and pollution cost India $80 billion per year. The costs of pollution can be quite high, both for individuals and corporates. For an individual, increasing health hazards due to pollution and unhygienic conditions are not unknown. Nearly half of the country’s population does not have access to toilets, especially in rural areas. Such conditions contribute to the spread of diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and worm infestation. According to a UNICEF study, 13% child deaths in India in 2010 were caused by diarrhoea—an outcome of poor sanitation.
A 2011 CRISIL report highlighted the risks emanating from scarcity of water availability and water pollution. The report categorised risks into three categories—physical, regulatory and reputational. Physical risk refers to the difficulty a company faces in getting adequate supply of good quality water to run its operations. Regulatory risk relates to the governance and actions by the regulators with regard to use and discharge of water. Reputational risk refers to the loss of goodwill in the community due to mismanagement and wasteful use of water resources. These risks increase the cost of doing business and can severely impact competitiveness. The same is true of air pollution.
For the economy, costs are no less. First being the loss in tourism. Indian tourist destinations lack the cleanliness and maintenance expected of a tourist spot. Pollution also reduces the attractiveness of the country as a preferred investment destination. In trade negotiations and negotiations with regards to emission standards, harder targets might be set for India.
However, the cost of cleanliness is not too high. The World Bank report states that a 10% particulate emission reduction by 2030 will lower GDP modestly, representing a loss of merely 0.3% to the GDP ($46 billion) compared to business as usual. The savings from this in terms of reduced health damages would be $24 billion, making up for the loss in GDP to a large extent. Modi has acknowledged that the act of cleanliness can be an economic activity, contributing to GDP, reducing healthcare costs and also a source of employment.
So, what all can be done? The first step is spreading awareness. The government has done this part quite well.
However, much more is needed.
Creating demonstration zones: Setting up demonstration zones/areas as part of the cleanliness drive could be a good idea to showcase the benefits of cleaner surroundings. Imagine if Marine Drive in Mumbai is chosen as a demonstration zone by the BMC for a month. A penalty is put in place for littering on Marine Drive and the neighbourhood is encouraged to keep it clean. Once you ‘demonstrate’ to the public that the area can be kept clean for a month through penalty checks and public participation, it can be replicated elsewhere. This can lead to inbuilt social checks. If you have travelled in the Delhi Metro, you would have noticed that people give you stares if you are found littering. There is a sense of pride and ownership attached to it. These zones can serve as model areas for cleanliness and the same can then be replicated elsewhere.
Working through a PPP model: The government has stressed on promoting PPP. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan can adopt the same. Community cleanliness projects can be funded via the PPP model. The government can, in part, subsidise the project, with the onus of running and making the project successful lying with the people. If a project fails to perform, the subsidy can be withdrawn and penal action can be taken against the community. For example, New York City has a comprehensive network of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), which is a form of PPP.
These BIDs are non-profit, provide free public goods and have been instrumental in conservation of parks in the city.
Waste-to-energy: Creating energy from waste is something that does not make headlines, but this source of alternate energy is being used by countries like Norway and Japan. According to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, 1,000 MW power can be generated from urban and industrial wastes. The key is separation of waste into four parts—recyclable, combustible, large-sized and incombustible. Combustible waste is separated and burnt in incineration plants to produce energy. Norway, in fact, imports waste from its European neighbours to generate energy. Many developing countries have come forward to import this technology from Japan. Why can’t this be piloted in Mumbai which needs a good waste management system? Economist Ajit Ranade pointed out that Mumbai has the potential to set up a 120-MW power station based on garbage the city generates, fetching R1,000 crore a year. The PPP model can also be brought in by roping in incorporates in such power projects.
Learning from our own ‘clean cities’: The transformation of Surat from a plague struck city to one of the cleanest in India is no mean feat, thanks to the determination of the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC). Post the disaster in 1994, the entire city was divided into six zones with a commissioner for each zone and with additional powers. With a vigorous cleanliness drive, the city was able to achieve success within 18 months. Public health mapping, public participation schemes to incentivise residents, convenient timings for garbage collection, night cleaning and brushing of roads, management of industrial waste disposal were some of the initiatives undertaken by SMC. Today, SMC has one of the best solid waste management systems and water treatment plants in the country. Similarly, the concept of roads from waste plastic can be adopted from Jamshedpur.
These are just a few ideas that can perhaps be implemented easily. What will be crucial in making this campaign a success is the change in the attitude of people. Prime Minister Modi emphasised, “It takes time to change established mindset. It is a difficult task. But we have five years.” We are optimistic on the success of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Probably the next campaign we would like to see is a Shaant Bharat Abhiyan, a step towards noise-free India.
The authors are corporate economists based in Mumbai. Views are personal