Jayshree Lakhan, 54, sometimes relieves herself behind parked cars. Broom in hand, her tired knees ache, she says. On a particularly bad day, she can be found begging south Mumbai watchmen outside bungalows and multi-storeys around Cuffe Parade to allow her access to their toilets.
Jayshree is a safai karamchari, a sweeper with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Asia’s richest civic body with a budget of Rs 31,178.19 crore for 2014-2015 alone.
She is also a tiny but essential cog in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan — and a resident of Panchsheel Nagar colony for the Class IV workers of the BMC, where 150-odd families continue to have toilets with no water connection.
For 62 years now, this and other BMC-owned quarters for safai karamcharis across Mumbai have had no water supply. At least 25 such colonies rely completely on private tankers for their basic needs.
“I keep hearing everywhere about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and see photographs of celebrities with brooms,” Jayshree says. “I want Prime Minister Narendra Modi to confirm whether our colony comes inside India’s borders. If you walk into our toilets, you will see that it doesn’t.”
Located in Colaba, just a little behind Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, each floor of the three-storey building where Jayshree stays is home to 38 families, the more crowded homes having as many as 16 members. Every floor has 12 common loos, or one loo for four homes. Only, none has even a tap, let alone a flush.
“Do the math. But numbers will not sum up our story,” says Govind Mohite, 54, chief labour officer from the sweepers’ wing.
Opposite Mohite’s home lives Kunjali More, 32, wife of a garbage loader. On October 2, when Modi wielded a broom to kickstart the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, she was in Bombay Hospital with her two sons who had contracted dengue. “They later came to inspect breeding spots and said there are none here. We have 22 persons suffering from dengue since October,” says Kunjali.
None of the toilets in Panchsheel have light bulbs. In the night women must hold their bladder, Kunjali says. It’s just not safe either – there are rats and hooligans. “It’s like we live in some other world, unknown to the rest.”
Another resident, Prajakta Pawar, says she had suggested at meeting this month that some of the common bathrooms be converted into common toilets, with water pipelines fitted and septic infrastructure improved.
“Will you believe if I tell you BMC told us that they don’t have permission from another department because roads have to be dug to lay water lines? How ridiculous! BMC not getting permission from BMC for laying pipes to give us a basic need?”
At the Panchsheel colony, two civic labourers have now been assigned to clean the toilets. Mohite’s wife Ratanmala says they themselves join the labourers sometimes. “We just give them some extra money and work alongside, since the toilets get choked daily,” Ratanmala says.
Departments that The Indian Express contacted pushed the responsibility on each other. According to Assistant Head Supervisor (Solid Waste Management), BMC, L D Rathod, “The water department and maintenance department have to figure. We have the mandate to clean these loos and keep asking them to fix it. We are yet to get a response. They tell us that the contractor who was assigned the job did not get the water connection lines till the toilets. Our men who go to clean have now started refusing to do it as there is no water.”