Not the same Surat

Four years after the "plague", this Indian city is cleaner. But is it healthier?

This is a new-leaf story. Well, almost. Of how a dirty city that bred a mysterious plague three years ago, went on o become (according to one survey) India´s second cleanest city. Surat, in the western state of Gujarat, is no longer the friendliest of places for garbage or rats, nor should it enthuse those on the lookout for muckraking stories. After the mystery epidemic that spread panic in 1994, the city has cleaned up its act. But in the process, it is learning a few lessons on the difficulty of sustaining cleanliness.

By September-end 1994, Surat had seen the worst of the ´plague´ (see box on following page). A few dozen people had died, a few hundred had been hospitalised, and a few hundred thousand had fled. Panic spread beyond Surat and beyond India. Airlines cut flights, those that did take off were fumigated on arrival, and tourists shunned India. Surat´s workers sought refuge in their native villages in Gujarat and neighbouring Maharashtra, deserting the textile factories and diamond houses that provide the city its wealth. However, during their absence, the municipal corporation got to work. Under an ambitious Action Plan, city workers cleared thousands of metric tons of garbage and sprayed more than 60 metric tons of insecticide. As people trickled back to the city over the next few weeks, they found Surat a changed place. Or, as put in Hindi, Surat ka surat badal gaya – Surat´s appearance has changed.

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Himal Southasian
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