Thursday, January 07, 2010

Leak no further, this city's full

Leak no further, this city's full

Bangalore presents a dismal scene when it comes to providing the citizens with public toilets. The problem has led to a rampant and a disgusting habit of urinating in public. Bosky Khanna and Arvin Vincent look at the solutions

Bosky Khanna and Arvin Vincent

Between every Bangalorean and a public toilet stands an uncompromising hurdle — a one rupee coin and an old habit that just refuses to die.
Bangalore serves as hub for IT, culture, industry, and sports, but not everyone enjoys Bangalore's generally cosmopolitan lifestyle. Side by side with the modern buildings and high-tech facilities are almost 400 slums serving as home to roughly 10 per cent of the city's population of 80 lakh. Most of these slums have little or no sanitation facilities, with no toilets for the residents to relieve themselves.
A walk into Sudhamnagar slum, comprising 300 households of mostly daily wage earners engaged in casual labour and services industry, the residents have no access to basic sanitation facility in their homes, limited educational opportunity for children, and very little hope for a better quality of life.
It is not Sudhamnagar alone, the problem afflicts entire Bangalore. Take for instance the public toilet at St Mark's Road. The wall adjoining this Nirmala venture, one of the many built by the BBMP - Infosys Foundation collaboration, is now an open urinal. In fact, the number of men who stop by next to the wall adjoining the toilet to answer the nature's call outnumbers those visiting public facilities
Bhaskara, who owns a small paan shop next to the wall, says it has become such a common sight that it hardly evokes any social criticism anymore. "People just refuse to pay. They say when you can't keep it clean, what is the point in charging money. Arguments happen and eventually it's the wall that bears the brunt."
But one can't blame the citizens. A quick look around and it's easy to note that they do not have many decent options before them.
So pathetic is the condition of the majority of the toilet complexes -- both Sulabh and Nirmala– in the city that people prefer either a bush or a wall rather than to step inside these stinking enclosures.
"Why would any sober person pay money to pee in a stinking confined space that could induce nausea? Kalasipalya, Majestic, Kormangala, and Madiwala…the list is endless. How would the existence of filthy, uncleaned toilets by the roadside raise civic consciousness?" asks Emil Thomas, a 23-year-old MBA student.
The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) has around 400 public toilets spread across the city, and most of them are badly in need of maintenance. It's almost the same story for the Nirmala toilets in the city.
Infosys Foundation chairperson Sudha Murty dished out Rs eight crore from her purse for the project, but to what avail?
In many areas, the toilet and electrical fixtures have been vandalised by vagabonds and need to be re-done.
Contractors raising the stink
The BBMP blames the contractors and pourakarmikas for the current mess. "Most of them have not done a proper job; it is very difficult for us to check on each and every toilet in the city. If people entrusted with the job are callous then we can't do nothing. We can take action, but I don't think it will solve the problem," says Dr Devaki Umesh, health officer, BBMP- West.
Devaki, however, believes things can only improve if the people change their attitude.
"Blaming authorities for everything is like a fashion. How many of us actually are willing to pay that Re1 for the service? I've seen educated, neatly dressed people preferring the wall over the toilet in many tony areas of the city. There is fine in place but do you think it will actually stop them from doing all this?"
But where do the women go?
It's perhaps one male bastion that women don't want to conquer. Men, as 27-year-old Yahoo employee Maansi Aneja puts it, can just stand by a wall or behind a bush. Give them a wall and they will pee, but for women the options are fewer, or none at all except to wait to reach the office or home.
"The public toilets are definitely not among the options. The only other options we have are to find a restaurant or a mall and use their toilet pretending to be customers."
The BBMP blames it on the negative perception that people have about the palike. "Most people stay away because one of their friends told them to stay away. There are somethings lacking but we are doing whatever we can. Things will work only when there is active participation from the people," says BBMP West zone health officer Devaki Umesh. But, there are people like Riya Paul, a doctor from Hormavu, who find this lacking egalitarian. "Taking a leak in public is probably the only thing in our country that comes without any bias. Rich and poor, educated and illiterate, everyone it seems have the same lack of shame and the same amount of pride when they lower their pants and relieve themselves wherever they please."
The solutions
Clean and dry toilets without water in Bangalore, is a distant dream. How many of you would use the toilet if it was without water or toilet paper? The traditional habit of using water each time is stopping people from switching to eco-friendly modes.
People waste up to 12 litres of water from each flush. Realising this, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has proposed the concept of waterless urinals in Bangalore a year ago, but the idea was shelved. "There is no help from the supply side, due to which the concept has been shelved. We tried contacting many manufacturers in Karnataka and abroad, but it did not work out. People are very comfortable with unhygienic toilet habits. The concept of using chemical tablets instead of water has been received with mixed response,'' he said.
A Venign bacterial base tablet as big as a naphthalene ball (found in toilets) is placed in Indian or western toilet. This absorbs the foul smell and also ensures that sulphur dioxide is not released in the atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide and ammonia are the prime reason for the stench. The chemical would take two hours to clear the urine stench. In case of biomass it would take four hours to decompose.
Thus using dry toilets for biomass is not feasible, but waterless urinals are possible as it is cleaner and more hygienic. It would also save gallons of water which people waste every day in flushing, said Biodiversity Conservation (India) Limited CEO Chandrashekar Hariharan.
The concept is not gaining popularity as Indians are not comfortable even using paper. In Australia it is mandatory to use dry toilets during wild tourism. The concept is also popular in USA, Russia, China, Japan, Germany and other European countries, he added.
In case of Indian toilets, these waterless urinals are built at a raised level when compared to other toilets. They are built at a height of over one metre. The concept of dry toilets exists in Nagaland.
It has also been used on experimental
basis in certain IT companies in Hyderabad's Tech Park, but in Bangalore it is still a long way as people are reluctant to let go of their old habits.


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