Shopping can be an unpleasant experience: The hassle and haggle are not for the weak-minded, and of course be prepared for the jostle and chaos. But the most debilitating is the lack of a restroom after a long day of shopping, and that too when it is badly needed.
However come April, and if the South Delhi Municipal Corporation has its way, you could walk into the nearest restaurant in South Delhi and request to use its restroom — even if you’re not a customer — for a maximum fee of Rs 5.
This concept of pay-and-use toilets—both public and private— is not a new concept. There are many pay-and-use public facilities in our cities and towns, in railway stations and bus terminals, and it is a common facility across the West. Discussions and debates about whether restrooms should be free or not is an ongoing one, with even a public petition filed a few years back in the UK parliament to make access to all toilets free. Mobile applications like The Flush Toilet Finder or FreePee that help locate public toilets show the importance of the issue.
The significance of the SDMC’s decision is in the impact it can have on a number of issues.
One of the common grouses in almost any public space in India is the lack of restrooms that can be accessed by the public — especially for women. To understand the positive impact of this order, it is important to know the existing number of public toilets in South Delhi: The corporation has 580 public urinals and 480 toilets, of which only 140 can be used by women. With its order, the SDMC has made accessible, in one stroke, about 4,500 toilets to the public. This order could not have come a day sooner.
This move by the SDMC, without doubt, is a shot in the arm for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat initiative. In a crowded metropolitan city where space is a premium, the construction of so many toilets is not only a time-consuming endeavour but also a costly one. Moreover, ensuring that the newly-constructed toilets have proper drainage systems, when in most cities such systems are inadequate and dilapidated, is too ambitious at the moment.
Hopefully, the opening up of so many toilets could help in decreasing or eliminating altogether the unpleasant sight of men relieving themselves in the open spaces.
That said, the concerns raised by restaurant association should be taken into consideration. Accommodating their views would help in the successful implementation of this order. Increasing usage fees or incentivising restaurants to open their toilets to non-patrons will help in their maintenance. An ad hoc approach would mean that this positive move would fail if restaurants are not taken into confidence.
But for now, the SDMC must be lauded for this people-friendly order.