Not enough toilets, who cares?

Not enough toilets, who cares?


With a population of 1.67 crore, the city is really short on public toilets. There are about 4,000 urinals and 1,250 community toilet complexes under the jurisdiction of the three municipal corporations of Delhi, and the New Delhi Municipal Council area, which includes Lutyens' zone, has another 227 of them.

There is a lack of public toilets in the city and majority of urinals are not meant for women. Also, there is hardly any facility for the disabled. Dh photos/chaman gautam

Add poor sanitation level to these low numbers, and you have a problem.

Stink rises from street corners even from a distance, and people try desperate means like putting up pictures of gods and goddesses on walls to stop men from urinating on them.

“The basic job of the municipalities is maintaining sanitation. An outsider judges the development of a city by the kind of toilets available at public places for the citizens.

However, in the case of Delhi, all corners in public places stink,” says Farhad Suri, leader of opposition in South Delhi Municipal Corporation.

The sad part is that even the available municipal toilets are not maintained properly. Most urinals are nor connected to sewer lines, and they get clogged. They do not have separate, overhead water tanks for keeping them clean. Lights are not adequate, which makes them dangerous for use after dark.

Corporation officials blame the condition partly to the multiplicity of agencies involved. “While sanitation standards have to be maintained by civic bodies, services like sewerage and water connection are with Delhi Jal Board,” a senior corporation official says.

Not for women

What makes the matter worse is that a majority of the urinals in the city are not meant for women, apart from being unfriendly to the disabled.

“I shifted to the city from Chennai few months back. I thought with Delhi being the national capital such basic facilities would not be a problem.

But things are pretty bad here. Having tried some of them at busiest market places like CP and Sarojini Nagar, I dont think I would ever enter them again,” says Pratibha Suman, an IT professional. “The only saviour for women at public places are perhaps the malls and the food joints.”

The somewhat upscale New Delhi Municipal Council area is sometimes seen as better maintained. 

“It is just a perception,” says Pramod Kumar, president of Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Association.

“Sarojini Nagar market, where footfall through the day runs into thousands, has only six toilet blocks. One of them would soon be taken over for Metro construction work. The remaining ones are in bad shape. The NDMC has outsourced maintenance services, but still things are pathetic,” he adds.

“We have been asking them to install exhaust fans for several months, but the demand has fallen on deaf ears. While the service has been provided by the NDMC for free, those manning the toilets are often found fleecing people by charging for it,” he says.

Some ideas tried by Delhi's civic agencies in the past to tackle the problem failed to click.  Some even courted controversy and litigation.

 Ahead of the Commonwealth Games, the unified MCD floated a proposal to construct 216 high-end toilets in markets and commercial notified areas under the civic body.

However, only nine of them were actually built. Apart from that, the municipal corporation also constructed around 1,000 waterless urinals at public places across the city.

While the MCD has now scrapped the much-hyped and first-of-its-kind fancy toilet project, the waterless urinals are lying almost abandoned due to lack of maintenance.

Worse, opposition leaders in South corporation have alleged bungling of funds in the waterless urinals project. Farhad Suri raised the issue in the House meeting of the corporation.

Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which runs the three corporations, claim they are dealing with the issue.

“We have decided to procure 26 water tankers fitted with jetting machines. One machine would be allotted for every four wards in order to cover the 104 wards under the South Corporation.

Moreover, we are planning to rope in the RWAs and market associations to get into an agreement with the corporation to maintain toilets,” says Subhash Arya, leader of  the House in South Corporation.

But the `jetting machine' idea – proposed six months back – is unlikely to help much. The resident welware and market associations appear reluctant to take on the responsibility.
“Maintaining sanitation is the job of civic bodies. Why would they take on this burden,” a corporation official said.

Moreover, similar measures in the past have failed. “About  a decade back, the maintenance of toilets was handed over to Sulabh International. But the experiment proved to be a failure after complaints of poor sanitary conditions from most of the places,” says a corporation official .

No policy

Experts say the biggest bottleneck in providing such basic facilties in the city is lack of a documented policy on toilets in public places.

“Provision of toilets has never been a subject of research even amongst town planners. The Urban Development Planning Formulation and Implementation guidelines also do not have any component on public toilets. This is because sanitation is the subject of local bodies, says P S N Rao from the department of housing at School of Planning and Architecture.

So, he argues, the Centre  and the state government never gave the issue adequate attention. Rao feels governments need to pitch in if local bodies fail to come up with a policy.

 “A policy backed by a proper scientific survey is the need of the hour. The guidelines under the policy need to clearly mention what should be the average distance between two public toilets, after factoring in the population and the location of the toilets vis-a-vis its surroundings for easy approach,” he adds.

The housing expert says simple changes like proper signage informing people about the availability of toilets could also make a difference.

“The general perception is that public toilets are anyway dirty. By not putting up proper signage, civic bodies further reduce chances of people using them. Even if somebody is enlightened enough and wants to use a public toilet and not urinate in the open, he would get discouraged if forced to make an extra effort in locating it.  Therefore proper signage are a must,” Rao said

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