Management of Urban Environment. A Study on Post-Plague Initiatives of Surat Municipal Corporation


The present study is an enquiry into the SMCs success. It brings into focus the post-plague environmental cleanliness strategies and actions followed by the SMC, their impact, sustainability and other issues.

Strategies and Actions

Multi-pronged strategies adopted by the SMC to achieve the programme goals, include:

  • Streamlining of functional, administrative, financial and technological aspects within SMC;

  • Awareness creation and capacity building of the municipal staff and city population, especially weaker section;

  • Inviting private sector participation in garbage management;

  • Introduction of a very well orchestrated garbage removal and disposal schedule;

  • Educating the public and issuing of instruction for the correct way of garbage disposal;

  • Special focus on cleanliness and infrastructure development in slums;

  • Better co-ordination between elected wing and executives wing of the Corporation;

  • Quick decision making through administrative decentralisation;

  • Carefully planned grievance redressal, monitoring and surveillance system; and

  • Need based technological improvement, and such others.


  • The programme has created tangible impact on cleanliness, living environment and awareness level leading to significant improvement in the mortality and morbidity;

  • Surat experiment has now become a model within and outside the country, which several city governments are trying to replicate;

  • A partnership approach between public and private sector, citizens and community is slowly emerging.

Negative Aspects and Sustainability Issues

  • Since the programme started in the aftermath of plague, achieving of immediate and tangible results through strict administrative actions was the implementation strategy. Community participation and NGO involvement in the planning and implementation was never attempted on a large scale.

  • Enforcement of environmental discipline through punitive actions, like administrative charges, is still continuing. This indicates lower level of participation and awareness. This may create sustainability problems in future.

  • Good leadership, which is the hallmark of the programme success, makes it vulnerable. Unless the system accepts community involvement as a larger strategy, continuity of the programme may be in jeopardy in future in the absence of a committed leader.



India is a rapidly urbanising country with its share of urban population consistently rising over the decades. While at the beginning of this century only 10.48 per cent of the total population lived in urban areas, the proportion increased to 17.29 per cent in 1951 and, according to the 1991 census, 25.72 per cent or 217 million of the countrys 844 million population lived in urban areas. Urbanisation is also an important indicator of economic growth in a country. It is significant that the contribution of the urban sector in Indias GDP has consistently grown from 29 per cent in 1950-51 to 47 per cent in 1980-81 and is expected to cross 60 per cent by 2001 (Planning Commission, 1992).

However, with growing urbanisation, the emergence of the gap between demand and supply of infrastructure has become a hard reality. This can be attributed to the fact that the pace of urbanisation far exceeds the growth of urban services. As the Indian National Report, Habitat II mentions, “The major environmental concerns in an urbanising India relate to high levels of water pollution due to poor waste disposal, inadequate sewerage and drainage and improper disposal of industrial effluents. Air pollution levels are rising mainly because of congested streets, poorly maintained vehicles, fuel burning and industrial activities. The dumping of solid wastes in low lying areas contributes to land and ground water pollution and high levels of noise pollution arise out of vehicular traffic, industrial operations, construction, etc.” (Government of India, 1996, p. 15).

In the Indian administrative structure the responsibility of providing basic amenities and a clean environment in the cities rests with the third tier of the government, i.e., the municipal authorities. However, municipal authorities are generally found wanting in fulfilling these responsibilities because of various factors including financial deficiencies, inadequate enterprise, political interference from the higher levels of government and encroachment on the functions of the local governments by various parastatal agencies.

The Indian Parliament passed the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts in 1992 to empower the rural and urban local governments by according them constitutional status. An appropriate institutional set-up was envisaged in these Acts whereby the local governments, which consist of democratically elected representatives of the people, are supposed to be the prime movers of urban governance. Local governments have been envisaged to be more broad based and representative with reservation of 33 per cent seats for women and proportional seats for the socially backward sections of the population. To fulfil the countrys commitment to the Agenda of Habitat II, Local Agenda 21 and other international and national programmes, the institutional set-up at the local level emphasised by the government envisages the local government at the centre stage with private sector, NGOs, CBOs and other local level organisations as co-actors.

Setting of the Present Study

The present report is the study of a local government in the country, viz. Surat Municipal Corporation. This is essentially a follow-up of our previous study (Plague in Surat – Crisis in Urban Governance by Archana Ghosh and Sami Ahmad) which was conducted in December 1994, in the context of the plague epidemic in the city in September 1994. In the context of the politico-cultural situation prevailing at that time in Surat it is significant to note that the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) had no elected body accountable to the people when the calamity struck the city. The earlier study aimed to gauge the level of provision and quality of basic amenities with a view to assess the environmental problems in the city and the local governments response to them. The following questions formed the core of our enquiry:

  1. Is it correct to assume that the Surat tragedy was due to the absence of an elected local government ?

  2. Did it occur because of the laxity on the part of the city administration inspite of the presence of an elected Corporation in Surat since 1966 ?

  3. If the city administration was indifferent and wasnt discharging its duties, what were the reasons for the same ?

  4. If our concern is for elected city governments, what are the pre-requisites for their effective functioning ? (Ghosh and Ahmad , 1996, p.4)

The study analysed the administrative, political and legal aspects of the Surat Municipal Corporation in great depth. The provision of basic services and peoples participation in solving local problems was also examined to assess the level of self reliance of the community. The study highlighted stark realities in so far as the level of basic services were concerned. It observed that “Though the citys economic activity has increased manifold through the unprecedented growth of small scale industries in the un-organised sector and through the setting up of some large scale industries by big industrial houses, peoples living conditions have deteriorated to such a large extent that Surat is said to be the dirtiest city of its size in the whole country” (Ghosh and Ahmad, 1996, p.4).

While assessing the role of the city government the study revealed that the SMC had failed to provide basic amenities and services to the people of the city in accordance with their needs and priorities although the city government had the privilege of an almost continuos existence of an elected government. The dismal performance of the SMC seems to nullify the common notion that effective city administration and provision of quality services depends largely on the existence of a strong city government in which democratically elected representatives manage city affairs and are able to take quick decisions in times of need. The occurrence of Plague was not sudden. The environmental degradation in the city, a culmination of long neglect by the local body, was responsible for the outbreak of the plague epidemic.

The above account prepared the background for the present study. The setting is again the city of Surat and main actor is the SMC. What inspired this follow-up study were the developments that seemed to have been triggered off by the SMC in the city since May 1995. The SMC refurbished its image and that of the city within a short time. The Municipal Corporation was dramatically successful in cleaning up the city, and in 1996, Surat was acclaimed as the second cleanest city, next only to Chandigarh, among 100 cities for which a rapid survey was conducted. This survey was based on a 40-point checklist prepared by an environmentalist group of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), a premier organisation working for preserving Indian cultural heritage. Several other independent organisations, media reports, etc. also proclaim Surat as one of the cleanest cities in the country today.

Objectives of the Study

The study aims at identifying the operations of the SMC in garbage disposal and public health management in the post-plague period responsible for its present image. The period under review is from May, 1995 till March, 1998.

The study aims to broadly examine the following aspects:

  1. What actions did the SMC take to clean the city through solid waste management and public health measures in order to counter Surats image as one of the dirtiest cities in the country ?

  2. What strategies were adopted by the SMC to achieve these goals ?

  3. What type of administrative restructuring and financial resource management policies were adopted and how these helped the project achieve the desired goal ?

  4. What was the role of the beneficiaries and other stakeholders in the entire process ?

  5. What results did the project achieve and what impact did it have on the main actors and the community ?

  6. Whether the Surat experience had any impact on public policies with respect to garbage disposal at the city level ?

  7. What were the positive and negative aspects of the whole process ?

  8. What steps have been taken to maintain the sustainability of these initiatives ?

  9. Whether this initiative can be replicated elsewhere within or outside the country ?


The study is based on secondary as well as primary sources. For primary data collection an impressionistic survey was conducted by the author in the city, especially in slum localities, in March 1998. Interviews with municipal officials, elected leaders, NGO representatives, elected women representatives, representatives of the industrial and business community and conversations with the local people and representatives of poor people in slums provided sufficient inputs to assess the impact of the new initiatives and know their reactions to and role in various aspects of the programme.

Secondary sources comprise our own previous study on Surat. Many other media reports, articles and news items which were published both during and after the outbreak of plague and published and unpublished documents of the SMC served as a vital source of secondary information.

Design of the Report

The report has seven chapters. Chapter II gives an overview of the Surat city. The profile of Surat city in terms of its physical setting, demographic, social and economic context has been presented in this chapter. Chapter III introduces the main actor, the SMC and defines the programme context. Chapter IV deals with the role of the SMC in managing the urban environment especially with respect to garbage collection and public health services including water supply and sanitation. Its new programme initiatives, roles and performance in the post plague period from May 1995 onwards have been contrasted with the pre-plague scenario. The administrative and financial strategies adopted by the local government to strengthen the delivery system of the specific services have been discussed in Chapter V. Reactions and responses of the other actors and stakeholders have been presented in Chapter VI. Chapter VII concludes the report with a critical overview of the whole process in terms of the positive and negative aspects of the results achieved, sustainability and scope for replication of the efforts in different settings and lessons learned.

Strategies for Action

The present clean and healthy image of Surat is not the result of vigorous sanitation and public health actions only. If it were not supported by the integrated approach with appropriate administrative, managerial and financial strategies, the programme would not have been successful. The total administrative overhauling and prudent financial management helped this process achieve the targeted goals in the shortest possible time.

Administrative Strategies

Decentralisation of Power, Authority and Accountability

It has been noted earlier that according to the BPMC Act of 1949, which governs the functioning of the SMC, the Municipal Commissioner is all powerful in the executive wing. He enjoys financial and administrative power and authority as entrusted to him by the Act, subject to the approval of the deliberative or the elected body. The concentration of powers in the hands of the Commissioner, who is a state government appointee, posted for a specific period, makes the other senior officials in the municipality totally dependent on the higher authority for decision making and thus creates sufficient ground for them to avoid responsibility and accountability.

For electoral purposes, the city is divided into 33 municipal wards. However, the ward offices which had been existing in every ward for long were rudimentary in nature and immensely understaffed. Due to these weaknesses they could only address small scale complaints and could barely manage to look after the cleaning of the ward. The Corporation area was divided into six administrative zones in April 1994, but the zonal offices were also without much power and authority. The zonal offices, each headed by a senior municipal official of Deputy or Assistant Commissioners rank, were formed with the objective of streamlining the engineering, sanitation, and revenue collection process. But these offices were also not equipped with manpower and finances. As a result, they were not operating very effectively before 1995.

The first initiative taken after 1995 by the SMC was to set up a new decentralised administrative structure. In this new set-up the powers and authority are not centralised in the Commissioners office. Not only decision making power but also financial authority has been delegated to the Zonal office in-charge. Each zonal office headed by a Deputy or Assistant Commissioners with support staff manage the planning, implementation and monitoring of municipal functions at the zonal level. He has been empowered with financial authority as well and can sanction any project upto Rs. 2 million without prior approval from the higher authority.

Collective Decision Making

The decision making process has been rationalised and made more broad based. The Municipal Commissioner with senior officials in the rank of Deputy Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner and the heads of engineering and town planning departments work as a team for the review of day-to-day work and the formulation of policies and programmes. Collective decision making, rather than a hierarchical set-up with top down system of percolating orders, has been adopted as a new strategy. However, decision making is not limited to this team of higher officials only. Even the opinion of the lowest municipal employee also matters in this newly adopted system of collective decision making through consultation.

Monitoring and Surveillance

Meetings are conducted at the municipal headquarters daily for reviewing the progress of complaint redressal and for discussing other related issues at 3:00 p.m. on working days and at 1:00 p.m. on Sundays. Besides the commissioner and zonal heads, heads of departments and health officers participate in the meeting.

Monitoring and surveillance system also includes technological improvement and introduction of modern equipment. The zonal heads and a section of other employees who work in the field have been given wireless set. This facilitates communication, decision making, effective co-ordination among the employees of various zones and allows optimum utilisation of both men and material so that no machine or vehicle remains idle at one place when it is needed at another place in the city.

Grievance Redressal

Extensive complaint registering system at the ward, zonal level and then at the Corporation headquarters has been incorporated in the daily routine. Zonal heads, other senior officials and their staff make a round of their assigned localities daily between 7:30 a.m. and 12 noon to assess the prevailing problems. Two types of cards, red and white, have been introduced by the SMC for registration of complaints by the residents concerning public health and engineering. Depending on the nature of complaints work must be completed in either 24, 48 or upto a maximum of 72 hours. Major complaints, like giving new water connections, laying down of drainage or sewerage lines, repairing of roads, etc. have to be completed within 7 days. (see Annex -III).

Co-ordination with Elected Wing

Even though the elected wing does not participate in the daily review meeting for decisions making on important issues the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and the Chairpersons of the Standing Committee are consulted by the Commissioner and other officials.

Maintaining Strict Discipline and Upholding Good Work Culture

Introducing strict discipline among all sections of employees, including senior officials, was another bold administrative step undertaken by the SMC. The errant officials and employees who found it difficult to adjust to the new work environment were reprimanded. Strict disciplinary actions, including termination of jobs, were adopted against some of the errant employees. A few senior officials were compelled to take voluntary retirement in order to avoid humiliation.

Although the harsh decisions could have caused large scale agitation by the workers, the genuineness of intention of the authority and support from a majority of the employees made the work easier for the management. Hence, strong action against a small number of disgruntled employees could be taken. Simultaneous initiatives of upgrading the quality of life in the sweepers colonies through the provision of potable water supply, sanitation facilities, paving of roads, provision of street lights, etc. brought back the confidence of this section of the workers in the local body. Some of their long pending grievances like unpaid leave salary, medical bills, increment dues, etc. were also sorted out on a priority basis. These attitudinal changes among the senior officials, to appreciate the problems of the field staff, facilitated the co-operation from the latter. A system was also introduced to give awards to one sweeper and sweeperess on 15 August and 26 January on the occasion of the Independence Day and Republic Day of the country for the best performance.

The above mentioned initiatives have improved the working conditions in the entire Corporation. The total 15,000 employees of the Corporation, from the Commissioner to the lowest level, are now a dedicated and hard working lot working almost 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, to keep their city clean and disease free.

Financial Strategies

Strengthening Municipal Income and Expenditure

The SMC has always remained one of the richest municipalities in the country. The growing industrial base, with big and small industries, has contributed to the citys income significantly. In the pre-plague period, during 1990-93, the average per capita income of the SMC was Rs. 771.24 which was more than many other municipal governments in cities of similar size. This was so despite the fact that the municipal revenue potentialities were not exploited to their fullest. The revenue collection was much below the target. The expenditure pattern also reflected the bias towards revenue expenditure, that too on salaries and wages. Capital expenditure on infrastructure development in health sector, water supply, sewerage and sanitation was not given due prominence in the municipal budgets.

Several measures were taken in the post-plague period to streamline the municipal financial management. Proper valuation of goods on which octroi can be levied, introduction of “flying squad” to check octroi evasion, on-line computerisation of octroi collection and its day to day accounting have augmented the octroi collection, which is the mainstay of the municipal revenue income. The collection has increased from Rs. 973.00 million to Rs. 1980.00 million during 1993-94 and 1997-98. Rationalisation of property tax structures, valuation of properties at close intervals instead of the previous practice of four yearly revision, have enhanced the property tax collection as well. Better enforcement and monitoring has improved the collection of taxes from 30 per cent to more than 80 per cent of the total demand.

A significant progress has also been made in rationalising the expenditure pattern. Administrative expenses have been significantly reduced from 41 per cent in 1993-94 to 35 per cent in 1996-97. The capital expenditure on infrastructure projects has increased by 47 per cent during the same period. Table 15 shows that the revenue income of the SMC has grown significantly from Rs. 1387.16 million in 1993-94 to a proposed Rs. 3255.37 million in 1997-98. The capital income which was almost insignificant in 1993-94 at a value of Rs. 71.32 million, has also increased significantly by almost 713.32 per cent to total Rs. 580.06 million in 1998-99. The most spectacular increase has been in the total capital expenditure which has grown by 544.24 per cent, from only Rs. 342.4 million in 1993-94 to proposed Rs. 2205.88 million in 1998-99.

This focus on the capital expenditure by the SMC has facilitated the provision of improved sanitation and public health facilities to a great extent. In order to execute long term capital projects market borrowing through the flotation of municipal bonds is the future plan of the SMC. Premier credit rating organisations have been engaged by the SMC to ascertain its credit worthiness.

Technological Improvements and Private Sector Involvement

Technological improvements in the finance and accounts department by full computerisation has enhanced the productivity manifold. Besides financing the project by its own revenue surplus and loans the SMC has approached private participation in infrastructure development. This is a new initiative in the Indian context. They are inviting global tenders on infrastructure projects like, Mass Rapid Transport System, amusement park, trade centre, water supply and sewerage projects, land development projects and such others. For the first time in India, the Corporation has proposed to install a captive power project with private participation in order to reduce its own expenditure on electricity consumption.