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November 27, 2012

Public Toilet Facilites: Build loos, but also toilet train men

Experts Blame Social Conditioning; Suggest Hefty Fines On Offenders

New Delhi: While men urinating on Delhi streets is a common sight, the recent shooting of a 17-year-old girl who tried to stop her 26-yearold neighbour from urinating outside her house has shaken public consciousness. Although there is acute shortage of public toilets in the city, experts say a lot must be done to change the mindset of its menfolk. 
    “It is social conditioning that has to be blamed. We must change mindsets a n d improve infrastructure. At present, there aren’t many toilets, especially for men, in the city,” Nirat Bhatnagar, principal of Quicksand, a multi-disciplinary innovation consultancy, said. 

    The consultancy along with WASHUnited has launched a campaign – Toilets Are Beautiful – in partnership with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to eradicate the twin problems of outdoor defecation and street urination. 
    However, many would disagree with Bhatnagar on one 
count. The erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi did construct some 700-odd urinals for the men of the city but completely forgot its women. And despite allocation of close to Rs 3 crore for women’s toilets in its budget, not a single washroom came up. Post-trifurcation, the three mayors – all women – did nothing to ensure that women have access to clean toilets. “We will do something about it. So far, there has been no proposal for construction of toilets for women,” Annapurna Mishra, mayor of East Delhi Municipal Corporation, said. 
    In absence of public toilets, women often look for a restaurant or mall to relieve themselves. “When I am travelling, I prefer not to drink tea or water. If we must go, we walk into a restaurant to use the facilities,” Shweta Saxena, a garments designer, said. 
    But with men using the public space, especially pavements, instead, it is the pedestrians who have a rough time. In GK-I M Block, the toilet built by the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi lies in disrepair. The traders’ as
sociation claims the new corporation is yet to issue a contract for its maintenance. “The toilet is close to a parking lot and the stench there is unbearable. There are two toilets in the market, neither is maintained,” Rajinder Sharda, chairman of GK-I M Block Traders Association, said. 
    The ratio of the city’s population and number of public toilets is abysmal, experts say. There are fewer than 6,000 public toilets and most are not maintained. “Toilets are not on the government’s priority list,” Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, said. 

    He believes the government should take up construction of toilets on an urgent basis but impose fine on offenders at the same time. “Though we have to construct new facilities, its maintenance is equally important to encourage people to use it. For street urination, in most foreign countries there is a hefty fine. It makes sense for we must penalize the people who dirty our cities,” Pathak said.

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