Nature calls, but nowhere to go

Last Updated 26 February 2012, 18:30 IST

Only 504 public toilets for a City spread over 800 sq km is a dismal figure. Even these have become stinking enclosures. Bursting bladders have no other option but to relieve themselves on the roadside.

Bangalore’s ego might get a booster shot with sobriquets like the Science City, the Silicon Valley of India, the Knowledge City, or even the cliched, but an increasingly odd tag, the Garden City. Yet, these exalting taglines hide a stinking underbelly: A glaring lack of the most basic of amenities — public toilets.

Spread across 800 sq km, Bangalore has only 504 public toilets. And of this dismally low number, 20 per cent of the public loos are defunct. Another 20 per cent have no proper water supply. Many exist just on paper, and some are at the mercy of BBMP contractors, awaiting completion.

An annoying reality of the City is that in the moment of urgency to answer the call of nature, locating a toilet is always a daunting task. In desperation, people often urinate in public spaces, leaving the surroundings stinking. Trees, spaces behind transformers, vacant sites in residential areas, parks, burial grounds and walls of government buildings unwittingly become targets of such desperation, not something the Knowledge City should be proud of!

Realising that the absence of public toilets is a blot on Bangalore, Infosys Foundation came out with a project called Nirmala Bangalore, and set up as many as 126 toilets at different places in the City. However, most of them are either closed down, or are poorly maintained.

B T Ramesh, engineer-in-chief of the BBMP, puts the blame on a contractor, Hype Integrated Communication, which ran it, but allegedly defaulted on electricity and water bills, piling up huge arrears for the Palike.

“The company has an arrears of about Rs eight crore, which is long overdue. This is the reason why we had to close down many of the toilets. We understand the gravity of the situation and we will soon restart them all,”says Ramesh.

The engineer-in-chief says the BBMP is calling for tenders to operate the toilets. The Palike will give enough representation to pourakarmikas (sanitation workers) to participate in the bidding process, he added.

Palike to build 1,000 toilets
As the matter has been raised time and again by people of all hues, the BBMP has apparently realised the need for public toilets. The Palike has now decided to construct 1,000 new toilets with emphasis on newly added areas.

In a circular issued on February 2 this year, BBMP Commissioner M K Shankarlinge Gowda directed the zonal-level joint commissioners to identify places where toilets can be built. “Shortly, we will float tenders for construction of toilets in the City,” says Ramesh.

The Palike wouldn’t need to go far to see the severe scarcity of public toilets and poor maintenance of the existing few. For instance, a four-walled enclosure, three feet tall, between Rajaram Mohan Roy junction and the BBMP head office, stands as a makeshift toilet. But there is no drain or water facility. The waste is free to flow onto the road.

The state of washrooms in government offices is no different from public toilets. It only shows the scant regard babus have for hygiene on their office premises. Perhaps, the most glaring example of this is the Bangalore police commissioner’s office, where a seemingly attractive premises with a good number of trees and a beautiful garden does not have a proper toilet for the public. The office is visited by hundreds of people, including foreigners.

The Palike’s own head office is not without problems. The poor state of public toilets in the Annexe Building and Council Building just behind the main building are clear signs of the apathy. The ill-maintained toilets in the Lalbagh and Cubbon Park are also among the victims of government apathy.

Moothra Andolana
Known for his symbolic protests, pro-Kannada activist Vatal Nagaraj had attracted attention for his vociferous demonstration against the government’s response to this basic need. He had even threatened to launch a statewide ‘Moothra Andolana’, a stir to provide this ‘fundamental right to urinate in hygienic conditions’ to every citizen of the State’.

He says people at the helm do not realise what hardship women face in times of urgency.
If the Palike complains about lack of space for building new toilets, it could have at least focused on the newly added BBMP areas. But in these new areas, where builders are rapidly creating huge apartment complexes, the number of public toilets is pathetically low.

While the old BBMP areas in three zones have 456 toilets, the five zones comprising the newly added areas have merely 48 toilets. Dasarahalli and Bommanahalli have just two and four public toilets, respectively.

Offering some fresh breath in the stinking scenario, The Ugly Indians (TUI), an organisation of anonymous people, has come out with a solution to the loo problem. The group set up public toilets in a unique fashion bearing the trade mark of their distinct thinking process.

What TUI calls ‘Wonderloo’ is an open urinal without being nasty or compromising with the privacy of the users. The silent revolution the group has brought in and around MG Road, while remaining anonymous, is something the BBMP could emulate.

According to TUI, wonderloos are a successful model, as the absence of a building does not leave any room for unlawful activities. The user-friendly wonderloo has public acceptance and pure functionality. TUI members have hardly spent Rs 3,000 on each such toilet and the design is innovative.

In an email reply, TUI says, “So far, we have not received a single complaint about it, and people use it happily. Its attractive installation at a convenient spot and its non-stinking quality have made it popular.”

Every day, the TUI, in association with the local BBMP office, ensures that wonderloo is cleaned twice a day. Before the wonderloos came, the ever-crowded Church Street used to stink, as people had no option but to urinate on footpaths. Now, things have changed totally. TUI says people preferred walking on the road to avoid stepping on the dirty sidewalks before wonderloos were set up. The pressure on the road now has reduced.

Facts and figures

Number of public toilets BBMP zone-wise
East Zone    127
West Zone    184
South Zone    145
Rajarajeshwari Nagar Zone    08
Mahadevapura Zone    13
Yelahanka Zone    21
Dasarahalli Zone    02
Bommanahalli Zone    04

Toilet malfunction
East Zone    22
West Zone    40
South Zone    23
Mahadevapura Zone    03

‘Akrama’ rules
The malady is not only the fast disappearance of pure residential areas but also that almost all the commercial constructions do not conform to approvals accorded on paper. The reason could be that the land owners may have been seemingly promised relief under “Akrama Sakrama”. Today you can find even in well laid out areas like Jayanagar sewers overflowing with BWSSB and BBMP passing the buck to each other. The less said about the garbage dumps and unhygienic conditions, the better. As a result of crass commercialisation, pavements are virtually non-existent and children and the old have to walk on the streets/roads.
Muralivaidya M, Jayanagar

Mother of all scams
The Intense-City writeup, "The great Bangalore robbery" highlighted how fake bills have been passed in the BBMP. Earlier, the scam involving just 1,500 crore in the three constituencies made the citizens raise their eyebrows, and wring their hands at the fate of they being ruled by scamsters and fraudsters. Sure enough, they will see to it that no bureaucrat will ever be taken to task, since they are in cahoots with the entire bureaucracy. This BBMP scam is bigger than the infamous CWG scam wherein, nobody knows where from, Rs 17,000 crore were squandered.
How could any section, department or body spend such huge amounts when there is no budgetary provision, and how the finance section concerned could pass the bills is a mystery.
Dr T S Rao,  Yelahanka

Let us know what you feel about issues covered in Intense City week after week. Mail your suggestions, feedbacks and views to intensity@deccanherald.co.in.  Selected letters will be published in appropriate column

(Published 25 February 2012, 19:00 IST)

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