Numbers game – A Critical Analysis of the Swachh Survekshan Awards | 13 January 2024 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It provides a critical analysis of the Swachh Survekshan Awards.


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources


  • The Swachh Survekshan Awards, an annual initiative by the Indian government, recognizes cities and towns that excel in public sanitation. However, a closer look reveals some limitations in the survey's design and implementation.

Swachh Survekshan Awards:

  • Swachh Survekshan is an annual survey of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in cities and towns across India.
  • It was launched in 2016 as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which aimed to make India clean and free of open defecation by 2nd October 2019.
  • It is conducted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) with Quality Council of India (QCI) as its implementation partner.
  • Parameters: The cities have been ranked based on three broad parameters– service level progress, citizen’s voice and certification.

2023 Edition:

  • Theme: Waste to wealth
  • In the State rankings, Maharashtra came first, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
  • Indore has been adjudged the cleanest city for the seventh time in a row.
  • Eight cities, including Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Kanpur, Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Jhansi, and Firozabad, have earned a 3-star rating while Noida has earned a five-star rating.
  • About 648 cities of the state have achieved the Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. 65 cities secured the ‘Garbage Free City’ status.
  • 435 cities in the state have attained ODF+ status, showcasing the commitment of the government towards cleanliness in the state.


  • The Swachh Survekshan Awards is an annual exercise by the Indian government to recognize and award cities, towns, and states for their performance on various sanitation parameters.
  • This year, Indore and Surat were adjudged the joint cleanest cities in India, while Bhopal, Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, and Gwalior followed closely behind.
  • Stagnation at the Top:
    • The top-ranking cities have remained consistent over the years, with Indore winning the award for seven years in a row.
    • This suggests that the ranking system may not be effectively motivating improvement in other cities.
    • Additionally, the focus on the top cities may be diverting attention away from the factors that hinder sanitation in other parts of the country.
  • Questionable Sub-categories:
    • The survey creates numerous sub-categories, such as “cleanest cantonment town” and “cleanest Ganga town.”
    • While some sub-categories, like those based on population, are meaningful, others seem arbitrary and parochial.
    • This raises concerns about the overall objectivity and usefulness of the ranking system.
  • Beyond the Numbers Game:
    • Public sanitation is not simply a matter of a city or town “choosing” to be clean.
    • It is heavily influenced by factors like history, economic conditions, and proximity to power.
    • Focusing solely on ranking cities without addressing these underlying issues is unlikely to lead to sustainable progress.
  • Recommendations for Improvement:
    • Retire consistent toppers from future rankings for a few years to give other cities a chance to shine.
    • Focus on identifying and addressing the specific challenges faced by different cities and regions.
    • Invest in capacity building and infrastructure development in areas that are lagging behind.
    • Move away from a purely competitive approach and emphasize collaboration and knowledge sharing among cities.

Way Forward:

  • The Swachh Survekshan Awards have played a role in raising awareness about the importance of sanitation in India. However, the current system has limitations that need to be addressed to ensure that it effectively promotes sustainable progress in all parts of the country.

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