Indore to Tirupati to Ujjain: How old cities, temple towns are turning icons of cleanliness

Devotion in India has long been accustomed to withstanding the test of gratuitous filth in temple towns. Devotees have got used to being gre...

Devotion in India has long been accustomed to withstanding the test of gratuitous filth in temple towns. Devotees have got used to being greeted by a pall of dirt on trees and buildings, garbage piled up at street corners, raucous vendors, litter and spit, and a pervading smell of dung and rotting flowers.

But that may no longer be the case. Results of the Centre’s annual cleanliness survey, Swachh Survekshan 2021, point to a surprisingly changing landscape of old and sacred India.

Indore, a city that at least to the Gupta era and an urban mess till a decade ago, is now a regular at the top spot when it comes to cleanliness. It has undergone a revolution in civic awareness with 100 percent segregation at source, NGOs and private firms involved in garbage processing, decentralised waste management, a massive filth-to-fuel recycling facility, clockwork road cleaning, citizen participation and invoking civil society’s collective pride.

Surat, an old port hub, is second on the list, despite it also being the fastest growing city in India. Surat has become almost equally obsessive about its cleanliness.

Delhi at the fifth spot is no surprise. As the Capital, it gets a whole lot of official attention to make up for the lack of a motivated citizenry. Also, its toxic air more than offsets the tidiness enforced on the ground.

But in Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh, Tirupati in Andhra, and Ujjain in MP at the sixth, seventh and tenth spots lies the real story of a quietly transforming India.

All three are temple towns. They get millions of visitors every month, threatening to overwhelm every kind of civic readiness. But by the grace of an alert citizenry, driven civic bodies, and perhaps god, these temple towns have achieved almost the superhuman feat of keeping things clean.

Ambikapur, named after goddess Ambika, has started a garbage cafĂ© to recycle plastic waste, for instance. Those who collect 1 kg of plastic get a full meal, and those who turn in 500 grams of waste earn a heavy breakfast. One of the city’s main attractions is Ramgarh, where Ram and Sita were believed to have spent 14 years of their exile.

The Tirupati civic authorities have overhauled the space around the internationally famous Shri Venkateshwara temple, conduct regular anti-garbage drives, and have cleaned the railway station as well.

In Ujjain, home to the revered Mahakal temple, even transgender communities have joined and led the rapidly snowballing cleanliness drive.

Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission, once mocked by many as a silly, unattainable campaign unworthy of a PM, seems to be slowly bearing fruit. Old cities and pilgrim towns, which once seemed like basket cases when it comes to cleanliness, are now leading the way for the rest of the nation. Even good politics is usually dirty, but great politics clean the dirt.

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India World News: Indore to Tirupati to Ujjain: How old cities, temple towns are turning icons of cleanliness
Indore to Tirupati to Ujjain: How old cities, temple towns are turning icons of cleanliness
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