An elite force of sharply dressed men cruise the streets of Paris in unmarked cars in pursuit of troublemakers who break laws with enviable ease. But the James Bond comparison ends just about here. These leagues of dapper gentlemen are part of an 88-member squad that goes by the name of Brigade des Incivilities, which roughly translates into ‘bad behaviour brigade’.
Their mandate is to prevent citizens from littering, illegal garbage dumping and, lastly, piddling on walls and street corners. Much like in India, many Parisians think desecrating walls is their birthright. Nothing — not even a specially designed anti-piddling wall surface that splashed the urine right back on the perp (perpetuator) — stopped Parisians from irrigating walls. When faced with a hostile wall surface, they just moved and found themselves a new wall.
Unlike in India, though, the government did not sit back. They set up over 400 free public toilets called sanisettes and then set about charging people with weak bladders and weaker public spirit up to 450 euros (Rs 31,950) for piddling in public places. In India, the government needs to enact and enforce the law to ensure the stench of stale urine does not remain an inseparable part of the urban experience.
“You must have a law and ensure people know that you are serious about enforcing it. The argument that banning urinating in public places is impossible in a poor country like India (because a majority of urban poor still don’t have water and toilets) does not work.” says a health ministry source.
Urinating in public places is not only unsightly, but also a public health issue. Defecating and urinating in the open causes avoidable diseases such as diarrhoea, which is not only a leading cause of death in India but also a major hurdle in the national effort to eradicate polio. Experts say the Oral Polio vaccine is ineffective in backward districts because of diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation. That prevents the vaccine from staying in the body long enough for the child to develop immunity against polio. “Disease prevention is all about hygiene. Using toilets can protect thousands from diseases like jaundice and diarrhoea, which are caused by contamination,” said the source.
India needn’t get unmarked cars but an anti-pee squad to fine bladder-happy perpetrators seems like a good idea. Perhaps the money from fines can be put to use in setting up public toilets. Not, I hope, to send politicians and bureaucrats on fact-finding junkets to Paris!