The Story Of A Swachh Bharat Toilet (Hint: It Ends In Shit)

Posted on October 19, 2016 in #InDeepShit, Staff Picks

By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:

“The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is alright but (look at) what we have to do towards it,”
a sanitation worker says, and another responds with a shrug, “People throw waste in the toilet”. They are standing in front of a public toilet that was inaugurated this April by Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu. While preparing their brooms for work at the nearby chabutra, they say that cleaning the new toilet is not their responsibility. But if an official visits, it is they who have to clean it.

Delhi got 20 such public toilets, known as Namma toilets (meaning “our” toilets), built by the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) earlier this year under Corporate Social Responsibility. Costing 13 lakh INR each, these toilet complexes were touted to be vandalism and tampering resistant and were said to have used special paint that prevents bacterial growth and bad odour. This seemed a welcome step, as the MoUD minister announced while inaugurating one of these toilets that there is shortage of 4,000 public toilets in the three municipalities of Delhi. The shortage exists although 7,000 toilets have been built since the Swachh Bharat Mission started in October 2014.

A mud spattered latrine with waste thrown around in a public facility built under Swachh Bharat Mission.
The Namma Toilet in Preet Vihar. Photo Credit: Abhishek Jha

The Namma toilets, first built in Tamil Nadu, had apparently caught the attention of urban planners, and it is no surprise that it became a part of SBM-urban – except that they seem to have fallen into disrepair in just half a year in Delhi. The toilet complex inaugurated by the union minister in Preet Vihar had no water running in its taps, some taps were missing and the latrines were clogged. A pool of urine in front of the complex was being cleaned by one safai karamchari, using a broom and water from a bucket, he said, he had to bring from some distance because the water-tank has not had water for some time. Cleaning this toilet would be almost like cleaning a dry latrine. Outside the Samaypur Badli station, another such toilet complex has taps and water absent, and urine has flown down the floor of the urinal stalls to collect in puddles. The fate of the toilets in Chennai was not very different.

A Namma toilet in Munirka, however, had its taps intact and water running in them. The 19-year old worker stationed there approved of the fact that it had both the English and Indian-style toilets. He did, however, wish that they were provided a toilet cleaning liquid. The broom, too, he says, isn’t useful and he has to clean the toilets with a piece of cloth. Not keeping the toilet clean does not seem to be an option. The previous worker, he says, was fired because there were complaints made that the toilet was not being kept clean by him.

A wash basin with a broken tap and an empty bottle lying in it.
Built to be vandalism resistant, taps at some of these toilets have broken down in just 6 months. Photo Credit: Abhishek Jha

“If someone comes with a bottle of water, how much water will they have?” a municipal worker in charge of the Namma toilet at Uphaar Cinema in Green Park asks. While the wash basins here have water running, there is no water elsewhere, making this yet another Namma toilet with marginal functionality. The group of municipal corporation workers with whom the worker is chatting say that the water supply is erratic and so the water tank is sometimes empty. “There is no water. When there is water, only then the toilet will be cleaned,” another from the group says, a little annoyed. “A person (who has to take a dump) is in an emergency. It is not as if one can hold oneself,” a third worker quipped. Asked how people dirty the toilet, one of them hawks up cough to imitate a paan-masala chewing person, “Gutkha khaa kar”.

These workers have been working with the corporation for some decades, unlike the 19-year old at the Munirka toilet, and they ask about their pending arrears. They had gone on a strike earlier this year in protest and have received some arrears but they say they are yet to get some more payment.

The roof of the house of one of the workers is in dilapidated condition and he needs money to get it fixed. “Or else, we’ll be found buried,” he says and they laugh over it. High-tech sanitation for the privileged, after all, has costs other than 13 lakh INR too.

A toilet complex with urine flowing out of it and waste strewn around it.
The sorry state of affairs continues at the Namma Toilet at Samaypur Badli Metro Station. Photo Credit: Abhishek Jha

Even though the Namma toilets project was launched with much fanfare, it is obvious that there are several practical problems on the ground. Lack of water within and in the vicinity of toilets is likely to promote manual scavenging. Employing manual scavengers is a punishable offence, and eradication of the same is also an objective of the SBM. These high-tech toilets don’t seem to have a fail-safe protection against that.

These, however, are not the only concerns people working in sanitation have with the rapid toilet-building exercise the government has undertaken under SBM. Namma toilets are just one instance of what needs fixing in the sanitation programme. If the government wants an inclusive Swachh Bharat, toilets – technology-equipped or otherwise – need to be planned, built, and run accordingly.