32-year-old Anita from Kaali Basti in west Delhi’s Vikaspuri woke up one night at 3 am with an urgent urge to relieve herself. For 30 minutes she tried controlling the urge, but couldn’t. She then called her neighbours to accompany her to a forest nearby, so she could answer nature’s call without fear.
The slum where she lives has a toilet — but it opens at 5am and closes at 10pm. If anyone needs to use a toilet in the interim, they have to resort to open defecation.
Over five lakh residents in the national capital share the same fate. Sadly, lack of toilets is not the only reason behind this preference for open defecation. Improper maintenance of the existing ones and restrictive timings have forced residents to head out into the open.
There are around 100 slum clusters in Delhi without toilet facilities, and women in these slums have to walk considerable distances to relieve themselves.
In June, Hindustan Times reported how children were going missing in a slum in outer Delhi’s Shahbad Dairy where residents have been forced to use the open forest due to lack of toilets.
In many areas, the problem is so severe that mothers have stopped feeding their children after sunset, in an ineffective attempt to prevent nature from calling at night. “We have no choice but to ask our kids not to eat after evening. We have seen cases where children did not return after going to the forest to relieve themselves,” said 45-year-old Raj Kumari, a resident of Shahbad Dairy.
According to senior Delhi government officials, one of the major reasons behind the lack of toilet complexes is that most of the slum clusters are not connected to the sewerage system, making it difficult to put up even temporary mobile toilet facilities there.
The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which has been assigned with the task of making the city free from open defecation, conducted a survey and found out that there are 259 open defecation spots in Delhi. This means there is a need for 24,036 toilet seats across 70 assembly constituencies.
The DUSIB has proposed 17,846 seats before next March 2017.
“We recently submitted a representation to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal proposing to construct toilets in the next 7-8 months. We asked MLAs to identify areas where toilets are required, and a constituency-wise plan has been prepared,” said a DUSIB official.
“Being the capital, Delhi cannot afford to be a city where people defecate in the open. Apart from constructing new toilets, we are focusing on maintenance of existing ones. We have a mobile-based application where people can locate and rate public toilets from poor to good. We have given a unique id to every toilet and monitor it through the app. We have colour coded the ratings and divided it into good, bad and average,” said a senior DUSIB official.
DUSIB has plans to construct two lakh public toilets across Delhi of which 1.5 lakh will be in slum clusters in the next five years.
The government has decided to repair the existing ones and take action against maintenance agencies for improper upkeep. There are three types of toilets in the city — individual, constructed by different agencies, community, which are in the slums and maintained by the DUSIB, and public toilets, managed by civic bodies.
For maintenance of toilets in areas that are not under the jurisdiction of the DUSIB, it has developed a performa and asked civic bodies to submit it to them.
“Once we have the actual status, we can start the improvement work. Many toilets are in dire need of repair and there are places where we need to build new toilets. After proper analysis, we will prepare the future plan,” the official added.