For 26-year-old Megha Shenoy, going to her workplace in Goregaon means controlling her bladder for at least 10 hours. A beautician working at a small salon in Goregaon (East), Megha has not found a single public toilet near her workplace. With no toilet facility in her salon, she either knocks on the door of a nearby shop or holds her bladder until she reaches home.
She is not the only one. Mumbai has a dearth of public toilets; there are only 8,417 toilet blocks for a city that has a population of 1.24 crore. It needs at least 50,000 toilets.
This is why open defecation is a common sight in almost every by-lane, on railway tracks and in open spaces.
But if you thought the lack of fund allocations was the reason, think again.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spends crores every year constructing public toilets, along with a major contribution from our elected representatives.
Our MPs and MLAs have for years spent a maximum part of their funds on constructing toilets for citizens. Data compiled by non-governmental organisation (NGO) MumbaiVotes revealed 36 MLAs in the city have spent more than Rs59crore to construct public toilets in their respective wards. Moreover, the BMC allocated Rs35 crore in its financial budget of 2014-15.
So what happens to all the money? Even though there are a few toilets in the city, a recent survey done by the civic body has revealed 77% of the toilets do not have water connections.
Walk into the slums and the situation gets worse. There is a provision of only one toilet seat for 1,200 slum residents, as against the norm of one seat for 50 people. Not just the poor, but all sections of society are victims of this grim reality. Over 6.3 million commuters travel by train.
A 2010 study by Observation Research Foundation, however, found there are only 355 toilet seats and 673 urinals across Central, Western and Harbour line.
Going by the standards set by the best suburban railway networks in the USA, UK and even China, the Mumbai Suburban Rail Network should have 12,600 toilet seats to serve the needs of its commuters — a shortfall of more than 12,000 toilets, the survey revealed.
Civic officials said they are now working with a non-profit organisation to address these issues. “The MLAs and MPs construct toilets from their funds to garner votes, but are not ready to take on the responsibility of providing a water connection and other facilities.
Our survey reports have exposed the wide gap between the demand and the supply. We are working on dealing with these gaps,” said a senior civic official, on the condition of anonymity.
So, with public toilets remaining just a subject of political mileage to garner votes, where does the problem lie? Activists blamed the civic body’s lack of will.
“The root problem lies at the lack of willingness to address public issues. Any state government would have a comprehensive uniform policy for the maintenance and construction of public toilets, but our state fails to formulate anything,” said Supriya Sonar, a Right to Pee activist.