The true test of a revolutionary idea is when people shake their heads in disbelief as to why they didn’t think of it before. Such an idea has taken physical form in the town of Musiri in Tamil Nadu. In a radical public-private partnership, people are being offered up to Rs 6 every time they relieve themselves in a specially constructed toilet. In the age of free television sets before elections, if you get Rs 6 to spend your proverbial penny, we think everyone concerned is making a profit.
The fact that urinating in the big wide open or against the neighbourhood wall is something that we, let alone the good citizens of Musiri, take almost for granted should not deter from the intent of the lavatory experiment. This partnership serves many purposes: it encourages people to discard old habits and at the same time provide ingredients that will go into the manufacture of fertilisers that can be profitably sold to farmers. This is a PPP enterprise where the pun is very much intended.
So what’s the moral of the story? That changing unhygienic social practices pays? Yes, that too. But at a more immediate level it is that proper incentives are needed to ensure that PPPs work. Well, if people knew the value of urinating, why would they waste it? The Planning Commission ought to study this example if it wants PPPs to work in building roads, highways and power plants. The answer is to go with the flow.