It’s neither temple nor toilet, but ‘beauty’ first for West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Unlike the Congress and its archrival BJP squabbling over ‘T’ necessities of Indian public, the TMC chief’s enthusiasm to beautify Kolkata at all costs has led the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) to ignore public toilets.
The cash-strapped Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), which is spending crores of rupees to beautify Kolkata in line with the chief minister’s grand vision, doesn’t seem to be in a position to spare a single penny on increasing the number of toilets for the city’s inhabitants.
According to government standards, an urban area must contain at least one public toilet per half a kilometre. This means that Kolkata, with 1,800 km in thoroughfares, should ideally have more than 3,600 public toilets in total.
But the KMC records reveal that the city only has about 300 public toilets, accounting for a mere 8% of the target figure.
“Lack of funds and an acute land crisis is hindering construction of public toilets in Kolkata,” a senior KMC engineer told Hindustan Times.
The 300-toiletcount is a small number even when compared to Mumbai or New Delhi, other metropolis that too have fewer than the required number of toilets. According to a Sulabh International official, Mumbai has about 900 functional toilets, while the number for New Delhi is about 800, though about 1,700 of them have been installed in the national capital.
Even though mayor Sovan Chatterjee, a longtime loyalist of Mamata Banerjee, had allocated R 5 crore for the construction of public toilets from the revenue fund in the KMC’s 2013-14 budget, the 30% embargo imposed immediately after this budget was tabled in March has hampered the release of even a portion of this money.
Despite repeated requests for the embargo to be lifted, civic bosses are refusing to budge, citing severe cash crunch. “We first initiated a proposal for lifting the embargo and allowing us to use R1.5 crore of the budget provision for public toilet projects on July 29. The latest reminder was sent on September 13. But it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” a frustrated civic technocrat lamented. He, however, didn’t wish to be named.
According to KMC engineers, a single-storey public toilet needs around 200 to 400 square feet of space and costs about R 8 lakh.
Until now, the only other source for funds has been the Union government’s scheme to develop community toilets for minorities under the Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MsDP).
Although the KMC bosses have agreed to build 96 community toilets under the MsDP, central funds for only 33 such toilets — amounting to R5.69 crore — have been sanctioned so far.
“The irregular submission of utilisation certificates to the Union government has led to no further sanctioning of funds, while immense pressure from local councillors has compelled us to undertake the construction of 70 community toilets out of the 96 planned,” a senior official with the project said.
The lack of available space had forced the civic bosses to opt for a two-storey toilet plan in some areas. But that initiative has also fallen flat. The project is currently on hold at 12 sites out of the 70 in minority areas.
In other words, don’t hold out hope for relief if you find yourself in desperate need of a toilet in Kolkata — at least in the near future.