Toilets, which are so central to the Centre’s “Clean India” drive, have also taken centre stage in the Maharashtra elections. Every party has mentioned them in its manifesto, possibly prompted by the prime minister’s Independence Day speech.
Toilets are a pressing need in much of Maharashtra, with 47 per cent of its households having none. Among government schools, 2,447 run without a separate toilet for girls; in rural areas, this is the reason cited most often for dropouts by girls. And the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway offers travellers few toilets along its 93-km run.
“The expressway was built over a decade ago but no thought has been given to toilet facilities along the way,” Raj Thackeray said while releasing the MNS vision document. “Only two places along the highway have toilet facilities, and these are hotels.”
Raj’s vision document promises to address the lack of toilets in railway stations of Mumbai and its suburbs. Half a million people take local trains every day to travel 60 to 100 km both ways. The document stresses a greater role for the state government in management of local railway services.
“Toilets are a necessity long neglected in government schemes,” agreed state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has laid out a detailed plan for toilet construction in rural and urban areas. We have incorporated plans for separate toilets for girls in both urban and rural Maharashtra. We cannot have girls dropping out because of lack of toilets or because boys and girls have to use a common toilet.”
In the NCP, Supriya Sule has been the most vocal about the need for toilets, particularly at railways stations in Mumbai and the suburbs. Among former rural development minister Jayant Patil’s initiatives, one was a toilet in every village household. That is now part of the NCP manifesto, which promises a separate budget for toilets.
The Congress too promises a toilet to every rural home, besides facilities on platforms and separate toilets for girls in school. “I admit toilets have come on centre stage because of the PM’s announcement from Red Fort,” said former MP Sanjay Nirupam. “But as an MP, I built 2,000 toilet blocks and have always urged the government to ensure the cost of a toilet block does not exceed Rs 2 lakh as it is a very important issue and a basic requirement… The Congress-NCP’s Sant Gadge Baba Gramin Swachha Abhiyan and the UPA’s Nirmal Gram Swachha Abhiyan stressed household toilets… A lot more needs to be done. And we are committed to carrying it forward.”
The Shiv Sena promises toilets at all public places such as railway platforms, theatres and gardens. Senior leaders recall how Bal Thackeray had urged the Sena-BJP government to set aside a budget for public toilets, leading to a Rs-70-crore allocation.