Not enough toilets at JJ clusters

It's a struggle for poor residents to get a place to do even the most basic human function

Noori’s three children prefer to reach school “significantly” ahead of their class timings. The boys choose to relieve themselves in the school loos instead of the toilet blocks at JJ cluster C/31, Kali Bari Mandir Marg. The cluster comes under the jurisdiction of New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).

“If they wait in the long queues, the children will get late for school. They also claim the school loos are better maintained than the toilet blocks here,” says Noori, sorting through clothes. She helps her husband in his tailoring work, which he runs out of the narrow lanes of the jhuggi jhopri cluster. She laments that using a school loo is not an option for her youngest child who is differently abled. The maintenance of the differently abled loo in the cluster is poor, she says. “My four-year-old son doesn’t want to go there; most of the time there is no water supply. Then he defecates at home.”

Defecating in the open is not uncommon in this NDMC cluster. The drains lie congested and residents claim that it has been years now that sewage pipes have not been desilted. Even though the NDMC has featured in 15 out of the 476 municipalities surveyed by the Centre in the cleanliness index, the condition of toilets in the JJ clusters under the council’s jurisdiction is not different from the rest of Delhi, say residents. The JJ clusters continue to reel under shortage of toilets, that too poorly maintained.

“I am sick of the condition of the jhuggis. On one side of the narrow lane, women cook and on the opposite side young children sit and defecate in morning. Over the years, there has not been even a slight improvement in the condition. How will your children be healthy if you were cooking in such unsanitary conditions?” says Kamla, 65, sitting on the steps of a temple at the cluster.

But do people really have options? “How can we complain of unhygienic conditions when there are close to 3,000 people at this jhuggi cluster and a limited number of toilet blocks? Schoolchildren face the biggest heat as they often get late for school, waiting in the long queues. In emergency, they have no option but to relieve themselves in the open,” says Raju, who works in a floor-polishing business.

The new toilet block, constructed over a year ago, has three latrines and two urinals for men, he adds.  Mukesh Kumar, who works as a housekeeping staff in International Bank of Commerce (IBC), says the biggest challenge in the JJ cluster is fighting unhygienic conditions due to lack of adequate toilet blocks. The cluster has another toilet block with nine latrines and urinals together. “But most prefer to use the new block. Fights break out daily over the use of toilets. Also, the toilets operate throughout the night as people return at different times from work,” says Mukesh Kumar.

The condition of the loos for women is equally poor. Most women complained of stench and water stagnating in toilets. Though the contractor is supposed to clean the blocks at least twice daily, the toilet is cleaned once daily. With the huge load of usage, the condition is dismal without proper maintenance, according to residents. While NDMC is responsible for cleaning sewage lines, maintenance of the toilet blocks has been outsourced.

“We will improve the general condition (of the toilet blocks) and if required will take over maintenance (of the blocks),” says Naresh Kumar, chairperson, NDMC.  The council will address the hygiene concerns of residents, he adds.

“There is a lack of something as basic as dustbins for the loos for women. How will menstruating women maintain hygiene conditions? The drains get clogged leading to stagnating water daily. Women should not be blamed for lack of toilet manners if basic facilities are not provided,” says Pooja Gautam, a class 12 student of N P Bengali Girls’ Senior Secondary School.

Anju, a mother of two schoolchildren at the cluster, says women here suffer from frequent urinary tract infections due to the poor sanitary conditions. “The worst are the weekends when people are home. Not only does it take longer for your turn to come but also the stench is unbearable due to the huge load. Earlier, there were mobile toilets near the jhuggi. Now those have been removed,” says Saroj, in her late 40s.

In nearby JJ cluster C/33, there is a mobile toilet deployed besides a regular toilet block. The mobile toilet is rarely cleaned and the doors are damaged. Water supply in the mobile toilets is irregular. “Even though women do not find it safe to use the mobile toilet because the doors are not working, it helps us in rush hours,” says Sunita, who works as a sweeper in YWCA Hostel.

“The NDMC should immediately take over maintenance. There are frequent fights among contractors over maintenance even though none of them is cleaning the toilet blocks properly. More mobile toilets should be given to jhuggis, provided they are properly maintained,” says Vijay, an electrician. But locals say the mobile toilet is adding to the stench in the area.

“Girls who come to learn sewing often leave it midway because of the foul smell coming from the mobile toilet. It is impossible to run this unit if the mobile toilet is not deployed somewhere else in the area,” says Vimlesh, who teaches sewing at an NDMC-run unit at C/33.

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