Mysuru: A century-old heritage of Swachhata

Mysuru: A century-old heritage of Swachhata

K R Circle in Mysuru, that looks clean after a spell of rain. Credit: DH Photo

In 2015, Mysuru shot into national prominence when it was ranked first among the cleanest cities in India, a feat it repeated the next year. The cultural capital of Karnataka has consistently maintained its position in the list of top ten clean cities in the country in the past five years. This year, it was ranked fifth among all and first in the medium city category.

For those with knowledge of Mysuru’s history, this isn’t a surprise.

For well over a hundred years, Mysuru has been a model city. With its wide roads, regular power supply, clean drinking water and a good underground drainage system, it was also arguably one of the earliest smart cities. Records say that all of this was made possible due to the initiatives of the Wadiyars, the erstwhile rules of Mysuru.

P V Nanjaraj Urs, in his book Mysuru…Noorinnuru Varashagala Hinde (Mysore: A hundred years ago), narrates the event of Swami Vivekananda visiting Mysuru in 1892 to meet the then ruler Chamaraja Wadiyar X, before his trip to Chicago to address the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Vivekananda was reportedly so mesmerised with the city, that he talked to the ruler for about ten minutes about the clean surroundings and the beautifully laid out parks.

In the second instance, Urs mentions how the British used to conduct a survey of nearly 565 princely states every year and in the 1930 report, Mysore was declared as the cleanest and the most beautiful city.

Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, who succeeded Chamaraja Wadiyar X, continued his good work. One of the main reasons for Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar’s successful reign was the able Diwans he had in his service, like Sir M Visvesvaraya and Sir Mirza Ismail. Mirza believed in the dictum ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ and laid stress on sanitation as well. It is said that sometimes Nalwadi along with Diwan Mirza and others would go on horseback early in the morning to check the cleanliness of the city.

Years later, when the Mysore Municipality was converted to Mysuru City Corporation (MCC), the first Commissioner of the Corporation S David Syiem, continued this tradition of horse riding early in the morning to check the collection of garbage and the sweeping of the streets.

The kilometre long Krishnaraja Boulevard dotted with some of the finest heritage structures continues to be one of the finest examples of a well-laid out road. It begins with the Mysore Law Courts at the southern end, followed by the Ursu Boarding School on one side, the Margosa Lodge and Maharaja’s College hostel, the 150-year-old Maharaja’s College, the Oriental Research Institute passing by the iconic Crawford Hall, finally ending with the majestic Deputy Commissioner’s Office.

An old clean city

The setting up of the City Improvement Trust Board in 1904 also laid a strong foundation for development works in the city. Its first task was to lay an underground drainage system connecting all the houses, provide piped drinking water and set up a sewage treatment plant as early as 1910.

With this infrastructure in place, it was not at all difficult for Mysuru to bag the top city tag consecutively in 2015 and 2016, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission in 2014.

However, in the next three years the trouble began even as other cities like Indore, Surat, Bhopal went on to bag the cleanest city awards, with aggressive planning and effective implementation of Swachh Survekshan parameters.

It was sad to see Mysuru slip to eighth place in 2018. Ironically, as former Corporation Commissioner C G Betsurmath noted, officials from Indore and Bhopal had come to Mysuru and studied the measures taken by MCC to keep the city clean.

However, what has kept the MCC on its toes is the presence of NGOs like Mysuru Grahakara Parishat, which has taken up many causes relating to the upkeep of the city including traffic, water supply, taxes and roads.

Deputy Commissioner Abhiram G Sankar, who acknowledges Mysuru’s rich legacy of cleanliness, however, said that one of the important areas they are working on is the citizen’s participation, as he feels there is reticence from their side in taking part in this exercise, which carries a good number of marks.

He also said that since the parameters for cleanliness has increased, sometimes the surveyors’ assessment becomes subjective. Besides, the city is facing systemic challenges as it battles a fund crunch. However, the MCC is trying to tackle the problem by having dry and wet waste separator vehicles, improving the waste management plant in J P Nagar including setting up of two solid waste management plants, he added.

Pramoda Devi Wadiyar, member of the erstwhile royal family of Mysuru and brand ambassador for the Swachh Survekshan 2020, had the last word on Mysuru’s clean city tag, when she said that while she was happy with the top award, it gives her little satisfaction that it is in the middle category, when Mysuru has all it takes to reach the top once again.

She says this is possible when the citizens and the government machinery, including the people’s representatives, join hands.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Mysuru)