State of public toilets in India

Construction of toilets to make them universally accessible is one of the most important aspects of the Swachh Bharat Mission. According to the data of Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U), the government has constructed around 5,95,146 Public Toilets (PTs) and Community Toilets (CTs) across the nation. However, the real state of public toilets is grimmer at ground level

Latest data shows that the Government of India has completed around 117 per cent of its mission with respect to the construction of public and community toilets across the nation. However, a latest survey by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) shows that almost 55 per cent of the public toilets in Delhi are either in unusable condition or extremely dirty. Moreover, there are evident differences in data provided by government agencies and civil societies.

Inadequate Infrastructure

Government of India’s advisory on construction of PTs and CTs states that there should be adequate lighting and water, proper cleaning and adequate urinals. For a CT, facility area to wash clothes is also equally important. However, all these requirements are hardly met in the premises of a PT or CT.
Lack of proper infrastructure plays a very important role in letting toilet built under SBM-U remain dirty and unusable. Since the government floats third party tenders for maintenance of these toilets and since there is virtually no one overseeing their work, the parties that are allotted the tenders often misuse the money given to them to make profits. This not only leads to the wastage of public funds but also jeopardizes the health and well-being of those communities/people using these community/public toilets. Geeta, a domestic helper living in slums of Sri Niwaspuri, Delhi, said, “Due to heavy public usage, the toilet seats are damaged and have also not been repaired since long. This is why we are forced to defecate at night in the open. We know that this is not safe but we have no other option.”
Talking about third-party tenders, Sulabh International has been at the forefront of government’s mission of constructing public and community toilets. According to the data on their official website, Sulabh International has constructed almost 1.5 million 2-pit pour-flush toilets across 27 states in the country. PTs and CTs constructed and maintained by Sulabh International are some of the most well-maintained toilets built under SBM-U in the country. However, availability of PTs and CTs has been in question owing to the huge population size of India. According to the advisory of SBM-U, there should be one toilet for every 1 to 12 persons. However, Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia with almost 8.5 lakh residents, has just about 8000 toilets, according to a survey by The MOJO. Slums are the major users of community toilets across the country. Sarla, a domestic worker living in the slums of East Delhi, said, “Instead of walking for 15 minutes and then standing in the queue to use the toilet, we prefer to relieve ourselves in the open at deserted places after its dark.”

Toilets for women and PwD

Women friendly toilets is also one of the criteria mentioned in the advisory of SBM-U. However, a survey by Pinkishe, an organisation working to ensure women empowerment, found that around 90 per cent of women in India avoid PTs as they are ‘too dirty to use’. Rohini Mishra, a resident of Delhi, says, “Once I used a public toilet in Connaught Place, one of the most elite and developed areas of Delhi, and suffered Urinary Tract infection due to the dirty seat, after which I never used one again in my life.” Besides this, the construction and design of PTs and CTs are also not convenient for use of the People with Disability (PwD), which is clearly mentioned in the advisory of SBM-U. An RTI by Advocate Akeel Usmani revealed that there are around 19 states in India which do not have even one disabled-friendly public or community toilets. This is a disturbing figure for a country with almost 2.21 per cent of PWD population, according to
Census 2011.
The needs of a woman are better recognised by a fellow woman, which is why there should be a female caretaker in the PTs and CTs of the country. Mandatory bins for sanitary pads and issues related to the menstrual hygiene are better managed when there is a female caretaker in toilets. However, an imbalance in the ratio of male and female employees is clearly visible in the country.

Leading by example

Where various surveys show a disappointing reality of public toilets in India, there are some PTs which have set an example for the management and operation of public toilets in India. A public toilet constructed near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), Mumbai, one of the busiest airports of India, is one such exception. It is built by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and has a foot-fall of around 1000 people daily. It has eight and five toilet seats for men and women, respectively and also has a disabled-friendly toilet in men and women section, each. It is cleaned around 8-10 times in a day and also has a customer feedback system regarding the management of the toilet. It contains a sanitary pad vending machine and also provides a dedicated room for baby-feeding. Construction of toilets is the most basic requirement in the development of a country. Cleanliness and hygiene are the prerequisite in building a country’s strength and such conditions of PTs and CTs jeopardise the health of a major workforce. SBM-U has come a long way towards realising the mission of Government of India of making India Open Defecation Free (ODF). However, the management of PTs and CTs is a serious limitation in the execution of this dream on the ground level. Conversion of the government schemes at the grass-root level is the most important task of authorities. Protection of women is a major issue plaguing the country and making safe and secure toilets for women is the first step towards it. SBM has declared almost 95 per cent of Urban Local Bodies (4053) in the country as ODF which is an impressive number. Clean India is a mission ‘near yet far’ for the people of India.

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