As Kolkata is trying to come out from the shadow of its colonial past, and plunge itself into the blistering race of 21st century, a vivid section of population still do not have access to a basic amenity – proper and hygienic sanitation. Despite many years and apparently large sums of investment, urban sanitation remains completely inadequate in Kolkata. Some estimates say that around one-third of urban residents do not have access to modern latrines, and therefore a wide section of people don’t bat an eyelid before urinating or defecating in public.
The lesson I have learnt in my junior level was that pavements are used for walking until I realized they are also largely used as public toilets. When I pass by my college street, a place of education, I can see the pavements are used in multi-purpose way. Crowded with running book stalls, beggars and used for their sanitation purpose. All the passers by, especially women turn their faces off the pavements when males unzip their pants anywhere in public and start relieving themselves on one of these pavements. If required, all well-dressed women walk in the restaurant, but these well-dressed males busy themselves in decorating walls. There are certain spots which stink like hell and one can retch.
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) says there are 170 pay-and-use toilets in Calcutta, while Sulabh runs 30. This implies that Calcutta has nearly one public toilet per sq km. The lack of adequate number of public toilets in a city spread over 185 sq km has only added to the reasons behind committing nuisance in public. For women, the facility of toilets is even lower.
What we are missing? Let me give you some general facts, there are no washrooms on VIP Road on the stretch between Ultadanga and the airport; unless one stops at Haldiram Pure Foods, to use its facilities. But who wants to use the facilities when public pathways welcome them? The Metro stations and local trains too do not have toilets. Toilets are hard to find in the Esplanade area, between Ballygunge Phanri and Park Circus and on Camac Street. Even if you find a public toilet in the office areas such as Dalhousie and Horwah, the state of it is revolting. Broken latrines, doors and your nose could easily locate the toilets, for the stench hits you from a far away distance.
The most appalling scenario is in the Kolkata’s governmental hospitals. There are no separate toilets for ladies in these hospitals. The toilets are extremely dirty and not cleaned regularly. Visitors often complain that stench emanates and is a nuisance for patients, but the authority turns a deaf ear and a blind eye. All hospital disposals are dumped into the toilets.
But all is not lost, according to the city authorities. They have contemplated on starting mobile toilets with three to nine seats that can wait around the Esplanade area and the busy junctions. They are also planning on creating indicators pointing to the nearest toilet. People who live in slums or the pavement dwellers need a place to wash their clothes and visit the toilets. Then there are construction site laborers, courier-service men, door-to-door sales persons, taxi drivers, thelawallahs and the entire transport sector – a whole lot of people whose work takes them all around the city, hence a need for toilets in every corner of the city.
Till proper toilet facilities are introduced, the wall-pissers will continue their great work and women will be forced to forget their irritating bladder in quest of proper toilets.
The writer is a Kolkata based correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.