Invisible public toilets

Invisible public toilets

A wannabe world city that wears its tech tag with enormous pride has barely 475 public toilet complexes to serve a population exceeding 1.1 crore! If men struggle in this inglorious mess, imagine the plight of Bengaluru's women in their teeming millions.

To spot a public toilet complex even in the city's relatively better equipped Central Business District (CBD) is a tough task. In their frantic search for a safe, clean, well-maintained public toilet, women often fail. Is this how a city with smart city ambitions rides its Swachh Bharat dream?

Big gaps in last-mile connectivity between mass transport options and office / home inevitably mean long walks for women. To answer nature's call, the only option would be to step into a restaurant or a private facility, which could be tough.

Daily struggle

Shwetha Rao, a senior manager of a private firm, had experienced it first hand on a shopping visit to Gandhinagar. "There was absolutely no sign of a public toilet. The restaurants were crowded. It was a nightmare," she recalls.

For Narasamma R, a diabetic, the lack of this basic amenity gets really serious when she travels for work. Unlike others, she has to use restrooms at regular intervals. A resident of Laggere, she frequents Seetharampalya near Hoodi for her work. Since she changes her bus twice or thrice to reach there, it is often tough for her to find a washroom.

The long distance and less number of public toilets in the city forces thousands of daily wagers to search for safe and secluded places. The alternative is to wait until they reach their destination to relieve themselves. "This is not a new thing for me. I am used to it. Back in my village when I was small, we used to go out in open fields," recalls Narasamma.

Not gender-sensitive

That a Metro city is now being compared to villages for poor toilet facilities is disturbing. Here's another migrant worker: "It would be good if there are toilets as we need not walk or even travel miles together in search of a secluded place, unlike men. Men are free to do it in public."

Even in the few existing public toilets, gender-sensitivity is rare. Many women find it embarrassing to use pay-and-use toilets as men are often found collecting the money.

The guidelines set by Swachh Bharath Mission (SBM) clearly states that every city with more than one crore population should set up one public toilet complex for every seven kilometer streetlength. However, a survey by the city-based ichangemycity showed that Bengaluru has only 403 public toilets, most of which are located in the inner wards. The implication is clear: The city has only one toilet for every 24 km.

Toilet density

However, the survey found that the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had built more toilets in locations with high concentration of pedestrian traffic. For instance, places such as markets and bus depots have more restrooms that are both accessible and within the stipulated distance. Interestingly, Sudhamanagar alone has about 28 public toilet complexes.

But the lack of this basic amenity is telling in areas outside these locations, particularly so on the city's peripheral wards. Here's how the BBMP responds: "We have been working towards including more number of public toilets in the peripheral areas also. We are geo-tagging all the public toilets in the city," says Sarfaraz Khan, joint commissioner, health and solid waste management.

The Palike, he informs, has allotted 54% of funds towards the construction and maintenance of public toilets. The rest will be borne by the central government.

Sanitation gaps

Does this mean the huge gaps in sanitation in the Palike's 110 villages will be filled? Streets in most of these villages included in the Palike during 2007-08 are without any public toilet. As the city gears up for the Swachh Survekshan survey for the year 2018, these shortages will clearly rankle since the performance is ranked on the basis of direct observation, service level progress and citizen feedback.

One key objective of the Swachh Bharath Mission is to make India open-defecation free. But Bengaluru, despite late strides in toilet construction, lags behind. Open-defecation has been the option for many in the 110 villages.

E-toilet option

Looking for alternatives, BBMP in 2013 had launched three state-of-the-art e-toilets, equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors. Through a public-private-partnership with Eram Scientific solutions, this pilot was expanded to launch 152 such toilets in the city.

The GPS linkage helps the Palike monitor how many people use the facility and how much money has been collected. "There has been a tremendous response for e-Toilets across the city. We have installed two units each in different locations, one for men and one for women. As most women go to work these days, there has been an increase in their numbers. This is even safe and clean for the users, says Sreekumar G of Eram Scientific solutions.

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