ThePrint revisits events that led to the 1994 Surat plague and how the city emerged as one of India’s cleanest in the years to come.“Surat had b
Two years after the plague, Surat was adjudged India’s cleanest city in 1996.1
This transformation is credited to then municipal commissioner S.R. Rao who brought a slew of changes, including cracking down on corruption and bureaucratic apathy.
To increase efficiency, he introduced a system called ‘six by six by six’. The city was divided into six divisions and the director of planning in each division had powers of a municipal commissioner to take decisions.
Surat quickly transformed, as illegal constructions were taken down without paying heed to political influence enjoyed by the contractors. Drains were covered, pay-and-use toilets introduced in slums and markets, and fines levied for littering. Daily review meetings were also held by officials to discuss progress and further plans.
Rao also introduced a practice and called it ‘AC to DC’ (air-conditioning to daily chores) — civic officials had to spend five hours in the field, including at least two-and-a-half-hours in the slums.
Those found avoiding their duties were asked to resign. Disciplinary action was taken against 1,200 corporation employees, right from sweepers to senior officers.
“Very pleasantly, over a cup of tea, I had to accept the resignations of several officers. And I am still not convinced that we have totally weeded out all corruption,” Rao was quoted as saying in a 1996 article.
With better financial management and without any external aid — neither from the state nor central governments — the city was able to improve tax collection and spend of projects too.
The biggest difference was seen in the return of residents who had fled the city a year earlier. “Even hawkers kept their areas clean, women who used to throw vegetable scraps and leftovers outside their homes for cows stopped doing it,” remembers Vibha.
- 1. Since the deadly plague, Surat’s public health response has improved significantly. Primary health workers today make door-to-door visit of households every two weeks to ask if residents have had fever. They also test suspects for malaria, dengue, chikungunya and filariasis.
Thanks to its active surveillance, cases of malaria have dropped (from 21,540 in 1994 to 7734 in 2014). After the 2013 floods, deaths due to leptospirosis have also reduced by half from what they were in 2006.
Along with real-time mosquito surveillance programme, Surat also has first-of-its kind Urban Health and Climate Resilience Centre (UHCRC) that was set up in 2013 under the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, which is funded by the US-based Rockefeller Foundation.
“Any gap in the urban health system ends up as a health problem,” says Vikas Desai of UHCRC.