As the Bhopal Municipal Corporation marches on to achieve the target of building 30,000 toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), community toilets constructed before 2008 are ignored and in disrepair.
A community or public toilet is a facility for the shared use of residents, often of an entire settlement. The civic body handed over construction and maintenance of such toilets to Sulabh International, a social service organisation, in 2008. But only 13 of 71 community toilets in Bhopal are properly maintained and in use.
Many community toilets non-functional
Many community toilets are non-functional due to lack of water or connection to sewerage. The ones that do work are in dismal condition. The stench and risk of disease due to unhygienic conditions are enough to deter people, who prefer to defecate in the open instead.
“Women, in particular, just cannot use these toilets even in an emergency... They lack cleanliness, stink badly and are so dirty that you cannot even enter,” said Madhu Veda, a resident of the old city area.
This defeats the primary purpose of the much-touted clean India campaign.
The most unusable community toilets are in Ambedkarnagar, Mata Mandir area, Bhoj vihar, Anna nagar, Jumerati, Peergate and under Chetak Bridge.
Far fewer community toilets in Bhopal than required
In addition to the complete lack of maintenance, urban sanitation experts say there are far fewer community toilets in Bhopal than necessary. There are 380 slums in the state capital.
“[But] public toilets were available in just four out of 30 slums [surveyed], and only 2% of people used them due to their distance from households, poor maintenance and a lack of water for hygiene practices,” revealed a WaterAid explanatory paper published a few years ago. “There was also a charge to use the toilets that many women could not afford. The remaining 98% resorted to defecating in the open.”
86.9% households in MP continue to defecate in open
India hopes to achieve open defecation-free status by 2019, but official data show that 86.9% households in Madhya Pradesh continue to defecate in the open.
“Now we have the provision of Swachhta (cleanliness) fund, and we have asked our concerned department to do a survey and make a note of what kind of repairs are needed. Also we are planning to hand over the operation and maintenance of these toilets to a private agency,” said municipal commissioner Chavvi Bharadwaj.
Another possible solution to the monumental, and costly, task could be borrowed from what an NGO is doing in a couple of slums in the city.
Aarambh, an NGO, set up private community toilets in Bharat Mata and Police Line slums.
“We funded these toilets and handed over administration and maintenance to the women of these slums. They collect money from every family and maintain hygiene in the toilets,” said Jitnedra Parmar, a sanitation expert with Aarambh.