Big city, no place to go
Think you can ignore nature’s call. Only if you are one of the 78 lakh ‘superwomen’ of the capital who have been forced to adapt themselves to the situation: the city has a surprisingly low number of public urinals for them.
In south zone under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, there is not even a single toilet for women, according to an affidavit filed by the corporation in the High Court in August.
The picture is not so rosy even in other parts of the city. Under North Delhi Municipal Corporation, there are only 207 ladies seats against 2,652 gents urinals; under South Delhi Municipal Corporation, there are only 62 ladies seats compared to 1,060 gents urinals; and under East Delhi Municipal Corporation, there are 290 urinals for men and 66 urinal seats for women.
Poor sanitation levels at these few urinals for women add insult to injury. From a distance one can smell the stench emanating from the urinals. Not only do the toilets for women have inadequate water supply, some of them are also not centrally located. And the provision of women guards seems to be only on paper.
Malti Devi, a homemaker who lives in Rohini, says, “I have tried many times to go to public loos but just can’t gather the courage to enter them because they are highly unhygienic. And there have been times when I had to head home quickly to use the loo.”
Most urinals are not connected to sewer lines, and they get clogged. They do not have separate, overhead water tanks to keep them clean. Lights are not adequate, which makes them dangerous for use after dark. More toilets for women is the need of the hour. But the bigger question is their maintenance.
Mira Aggarwal, former mayor of north Delhi, echoes these sentiments.“The less number of toilets for women is a reason for concern, but the more important issue is to provide safety and security at public conveniences. There have been cases in the past where girls faced harassment while using a public toilet. After it gets dark women refrain from going to a public toilet as they are not properly lit. And such toilets have become dumping yards where rowdy elements keep loitering around.”
Though the municipal corporations are solely responsible for maintenance of these urinals, they seem busy passing the buck. They blame the condition partly to the multiplicity of agencies involved in the process.
“Though sanitation standards have to be maintained by civic bodies, services like sewerage and water connection are with Delhi Jal Board. The multiplicity of agencies makes it difficult to carry out the job properly. One will make policies, the other executes and the third will maintain.
This is causing a lot of problems. There is also a lack of public awareness about personal hygiene. Lack of availability of water for cleaning and other purposes is another reason,” says Vijay Prakash Pandey, chairman of Department of Environment Management Services, North Corporation.
A North Corporation councillor says the authorities must admit negligence on the part of the corporations. “Some of our staff don’t take the issue seriously. Laxity in implementing policies has resulted in such conditions of toilets across the city,” he adds.
A senior officer of the East Corporation says it is the faulty planning on the part of the Delhi Development Authority.
“Neither did it think about constructing any toilet in market areas nor did it leave space for their construction in the near future. Now when we plan to build a public loo in any market area, shop owners raise objections as they believe the surroundings will become unhygienic, with foul smell all over the place,” he says.
Toilets for women in somewhat upscale New Delhi Municipal Council area are considered well maintained, but Tripti Sareen, a private firm employee, disagrees.
“It is not true. The toilets at Sarojini market don’t have adequate water facility. The footfall in the market runs into thousands daily, but the condition of the toilets is pathetic,” she says.
Mohan Kukreja, member of Sarojini Nagar market association, is also of the view that public toilets in NDMC area are not clean. “My female employees always ask me to do something as there is no water in toilets even to wash hands,” he says.
About a decade ago, Sulabh International was given the work of maintaining public toilets. Bindeshwar Pathak, its founder, says the government has to get its act together if it really plans to promote the use of public toilets.
“The agencies lack will to build more toilets for women. Apart from water, public loos are always short on basic facilities like soap and dustbin. The corporations turns a blind eye to the basic needs of people. Experts say there is lack of gender sensitivity and cities are not well planned keeping women’s needs in mind,” says Pathak.
“Town planners have never considered toilets for women as a subject of research. There is no policy on public toilets for women,” says Neelam Rusbid from the department of housing at School of Planning and Architecture.
Most of the slums in Delhi don’t have public toilets, let alone toilets for women. “In the absence of toilets, women are more vulnerable to health problems. Toilets for women should be built at such a place where they are easily accessible,” she adds.
Experts say there should be budgetary allocation for construction of toilets for women.
“The Centre and the state should mull over investing in building toilet complexes for women. There should be coordination between different agencies so that they can be maintained properly,” says Rusbid.
The housing expert says simple changes like proper signage informing women about the availability of toilets can make a difference. “Bus stands should have a map of toilets for women so that they are easily accessible by them,” she adds.