Bengalureans budget for public toilets

Bengalureans budget for public toilets

On February 1, the Union Finance Minister will present the annual budget. The headlines will read ‘TVs and Mobiles get cheaper,’ “Industry bodies applaud/criticize incentives/taxes!” not to mention the customary pie charts ‘where the rupee comes from/goes to.’

A few days of heated TV debates and cartoons and memes, the news cycle elapses and nobody talks about budget for the rest of the year. A similar story plays out for the State budgets. But when it comes to the cities, where 471 million of us live and work, the ‘city budget’ gets as much attention as a Ranji Trophy match.

Hardly anyone knows when and how the city budget is made. Bengalureans are surprised to know that the annual budget of the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is over Rs 10,000 crore. When they hear solid waste management costs us Rs 1,000 crore a year, their eyes open wider.

When they realise that the budgets of Bangalore Water Supply Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) are not under the BBMP, they get even more surprised.

As ordinary citizens, we may not be able to influence the Union Budget or State Budget. But we should be able to make demands on our city budgets, because every rupee spent goes to work to make our city clean and green, walkable and motor-able and most importantly liveable!

Participatory budgeting

MyCityMyBudget is a unique participatory budgeting exercise initiated by the BBMP and Janaagraha back in 2015 to ensure that the voice of the citizen counts in city budgets. Over the years, over 50,000 citizens participated, providing 93,000-plus inputs to the BBMP. Based on our analysis, 22% of these inputs were incorporated into the budget totalling about Rs 600 crore.

This is a remarkable achievement for a city that is known for the high degree of citizen activism and engagement. However, since the thousands of inputs belong to different civic infrastructure categories, the impact is not seen on the ground.

#YellowSpotsBeda

Therefore, this year, BBMP decided that the focus would be on two things only to make an impact. Ending public urination - #YellowSpotsBeda is a worthy goal as it forces us to rethink public toilets; making footpaths walkable - #FootpathsBeku makes a huge difference not just for pedestrians but reduces pollution as more people choose to walk.

This had to be inclusive, to make every voice count from every area of our mega city. To make that happen, we had to convert this into a citizen movement led by many civic groups. Literally overnight, over 40 community groups, resident welfare associations and non-governmental organisations came together to partner and lead this in their local neighbourhoods through eight budget vehicles.

Collectively, they spent 145 days running these vehicles to reach maximum citizens. Citizens whose livelihood and professions entail they spend time on the city streets for long periods with no access to public toilets were an important constituency.

Campaign volunteers reached out to street vendors, auto and cab drivers, worked with health inspectors to reach pourakarmikas, and visited 15 traffic police stations to reach men and women of the traffic department.

Over 9,700 inputs

Senior citizens and youth were approached in local neighbourhoods, parks and playgrounds. Over 9,700 budget inputs were collected! The yellow spots were analysed in relation to public toilets, parks and petrol bunks by ward and made available to ward committees. These inputs truly represent the voices across the length and breadth of our city and all sections of society.

The biggest issue with public toilets is that they stink! The Palike is bringing in a new Operations and Maintenance (O&M) policy for public toilets. Given that space is a constraint for building new toilets, we decided to pursue other avenues such as petrol bunks to offer free public toilets to all, not just their customers.

The BBMP and BMTC are working on making toilets in BMTC premises publically accessible and building new toilets.

Inclusion in budget

What next? The BBMP now costs the budget inputs for inclusion in the 2021-22 Budget that will be released in March 2021. The Palike has assured citizens that budgets are available to fix these issues.

Bengaluru now has the opportunity to emerge as the beacon on how citizen and government partnerships can positively impact the quality of life in cities through effective participation in making the city budget. We can expect to see many new and well maintained toilets in the upcoming year, thanks to BBMP and proactive citizens.

(Srinivas Alavilli is Head, Civic
Participation, Janaagraha)

Progress of Citizens’ Input for BBMP budget

Framework for costing of budget inputs completed.

Ward-wise MyCityMyBudget data shared with BBMP for distribution to Nodal Officers / Ward Officers/Engineers.

Proposed public toilet location data being shared with BBMP to begin ground survey.

BBMP in conversation with BMTC to locate sites for construction of new public toilets.

Exploring possibilities to improve and open up toilets in petrol stations for public access.

Operation and Maintenance policy draft shared with BBMP. Now under review.

A MyCityMyBudget summary report now in process. Once this analysis is ready, it will be formally submitted to BBMP by Citizens.