'Delhi needs at least 50,000 urinals'

Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak feels the government has to gets its act together if it really plans to promote the use of toilets.

In an interview with Sugandha Pathak, he suggests direct  funding and a  more aggressive awareness campaign.


How do think Delhi fares in providing public toilet facilities?

Delhi requires at least 50,000 public toilets. However, promoting hygiene and sanitation through creating awareness for using toilets doesn't still top the list of our government's priorities. When a clean public toilet is given to the public, there is an option to create employment opportunities – like a tea stall located nearby. Just as the government is promoting and advertising the usage of direct to home (DTH) television, I think creating awareness about the use of toilets is necessary. In slums, as per the law, nobody can construct a toilet in their home. We did construct a few toilets in slum areas. However, with the responsibility of maintenance given to various municipalities, the toilets were badly maintained and people stopped using them eventually.

What are the challenges you face while promoting the idea of public and personal toilets in rural and urban spaces?

The government is yet to come out with a well planned and strategic scheme for constructing toilets, disbursing funds and creating awareness. I don’t think anybody in the concerned ministries really understands the entire government scheme for construction of public and personal toilets in rural and urban areas. Like the funding (Rs 7,000 given to construct each toilet ) for the budget allocated to build toilets in villages is divided between state government and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The government should not divide funds as it delays the process.

How difficult is it to reach to the people, especially in rural spaces?

There are social constraints, like the habit of preferring defecating in open spaces. Then the caste system is also deep-rooted, so one cannot ask the zamindar as well as a farmer to construct similar types of toilets. The government cannot force people to construct just one type of toilet, which it is doing right now. The people need to be given options from cheap to expensive toilet technologies.

What do you think is the solution?

The easiest way to convince villagers to build toilets, apart from awareness, is direct funding. The state government should transfer allocated budget to banks that are linked to panchayats, which can then give the amount directly to villagers willing to construct toilets. Rope in youngsters who should be trained about constructing various kinds of toilets and will create awareness, do maintenance and follow up. And they should be given some incentive in the form of money.

Tell me more about the various technologies used for construction of toilets by your organisation?

We believe that whatever raw material is available in rural areas should be used in building toilets. Like in north-eastern India, bamboo is used for the walls of the toilet. Similarly, mud, bricks, etc can be used. Villagers prefer an open toilet as they feel suffocated in a regular toilet, so we have made toilets with no roof.

Then for urban spaces, because the sewage system was constructed in the 1800s, there needs to be an alternative to dispose of waste. The toilets we have engineered have a set-up where the excreta becomes biogas and can be used as fertiliser, fuel, etc. We have not patented any of our designs. Anybody willing to build toilets can take our designs, as I firmly believe that the toilet is a tool of social change.

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