As a part of its efforts to boost the Swachh Bharat campaign, the BJP led South Delhi Municipal corporation has initiated steps to make about 3,500 toilets located within private hotels, restaurants or holders of health trade license falling within its purview, accessible to the general public starting April 1. The establishment owners have been permitted to levy a charge up to Rs 5 per usage at their discretion, for the upkeep and maintenance of cleanliness. While it is a good move to make more loos available, it sounds like a cop-out on the part of the civic body’s responsibility to provide and maintain these public facilities, especially for women where they are grossly lacking, by forcibly inducting private establishments into share their premises and facilities with the general public. With a starting budgetary allocation of Rs 650 crores for the purpose of improving sanitation, this SDMC move for facility access improvement is somewhat surprising.
It also poses a few complications. Restaurants and most health-license holding establishments have a fixed timing as to when they are open and closed to external admissions. Riyaaz Amlani, CEO of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt Ltd and president of the National Restaurant Association of India, expressed concerns over what he called a possible violation of a restaurant’s right of admission and security. Speaking to The Indian Express, he said, “As long as the order does not violate the restaurant’s right of admission and does not pose a security threat, it can be implemented. However, these things should be kept in mind.”
Additionally, a number of these establishments often do not refuse persons in emergency from using their toilets — which suggests that this is unlikely to be a de facto solution to the acute shortage of public facilities where they are most required — for instance crowded marketplaces, religious places, bus stops and tourist attraction spots. Most of us have seen inundation of restaurants with loos with people in vicinity areas of public places — which tends to happen even without a municipality mandate.
Indian continues to remain a ground zero of world sanitation activism due to the poor availability of toilets in households as well as public spaces. Poor maintenance of the existing facilities is also an issue due to which many people prefer to relieve themselves in cleaner areas outside — which is again not an option for women. A scheme to mandate private establishments to open their loos in order to ‘improve’ access to facilities should be taken as a supplementary and temporary relief at most and not as an alternative to building public works.