The Bombay High Court asked municipal corporations Wednesday to be more progressive and inclusive while designing urban infrastructure, proclaiming that women had equal right to safe and clean toilet at all convenient places. The court said public toilets were critical as “any large infrastructure project to make cities livable”.
Highlighting health aspects like “menstruation” and a range of uro-gynaecological problems faced by women, the two-member bench observed in a written order that providing such basic facilities was paramount to fulfill the fundamental right to a dignified life.
The court issued several guidelines to be implemented by all municipal corporations in Maharashtra, including formulating a comprehensive scheme for construction of toilets for women walking on the streets. The court also emphasised the upkeep of public health infrastructure as it asked to provide a woman attendant in each such public toilet to ensure the toilets are kept in a clean and hygienic condition. The HC said toilets should be protected by a trained woman security person in uniform who shall be available round the clock.
Corporations have also been asked to consider installing CCTV cameras outside the toilets so as to ensure there is a check on miscreants, without compromising on the privacy of the users.
The directions were issued on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Pune-based NGO Milun Saryajani seeking enforcement of the right to relieve oneself. The PIL said while there were toilets at the community level, there were none “for women walking on the streets”. It was the success of the Pune model, which the HC sought to replicate all over the the state. The bench comprising Justice A S Oka and Justice Revati Mohite-Dere, in its 88-page order, said the emphasis on providing the facilities should not be on the basis of the population of women but “at the right places where they are needed the most”.
“Providing toilets for women walking on the streets is an integral part of the civic amenities and corporations cannot ignore their statutory duty. The health of a city is inextricably linked to its toilets and it is imperative to provide them in sufficient numbers,” observed the bench.
“The need for women toilets is felt even more acutely during menstruation, when it is difficult to anticipate when it will be time to change a sanitary napkin (tampon or pad), resulting in frequent trips to the washroom,” said Justice Mohite-Dere.
Pointing out how lack of such facilities, which is a basic necessity, could lead to several health issues, the court said, “In fact, at times, women do not drink water when required to step out, fearing she may not have access to a clean and safe toilet. Medical science has shown that urinary tract infections, problems of distended bladders, and a range of other uro-gynaecological problems are a consequence of deferring urination.”
The HC also observed that men in general had twice as much provision compared to women, as they had urinals, closets and a greater number of overall toilet blocks. “The necessity for women to visit toilets is more and for a greater range of reasons, essentially because of biological differences. The facilities as are available to women walking on the street are almost negligible and in no way proportionate to the existing facilities in comparison to women population. Not only are the basic infrastructure lacking, but even those provided are far from satisfactory,” said the bench.
The court said with the guidelines and directions they were giving, the corporations would have to take prompt steps in ensuring that the existing toilets were made functional, bringing them at par with the new toilets that would be constructed. “This will help in maintaining uniformity of toilets,” said the HC.
The corporations have been directed to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of the commissioner or additional municipal commissioner to look into construction of toilets.
“The committee shall formulate a comprehensive scheme from the identification of the spot to construction of such toilets which shall include the management and maintenance of the toilets. The emphasis should not be on providing number of toilets on the basis of proportion of women population. The emphasis should be on providing proper facilities at the right places where they are needed the most,” said the HC.
The court also observed that while designing the toilets care should be taken to ensure that there was proper ventilation and preferably natural light without compromising on the privacy, security and safety of women. Also, the new toilets should be a separate unit with a separate entrance and be preferably at a distance from the men’s toilets, said the court.
The judges have posted the matter on March 8 for next hearing, hoping that “by Women’s Day all corporation will make compliance earnestly”