For lakhs of slum-dwellers across the capital, something as simple as going to the toilet can be a daunting task. Abhishek Angad heads to eight JJ clusters, each with a unique problem of its own, to understand how people who live there make it through the day
Niron Devi has never been to a toilet in the last 25 years. The 55-year-old — who hails from Uttar Pradesh and works as a landless farmer in east Delhi’s Yamuna floodplains — defecates in a pit near her jhuggi on the floodplain. While there is a Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) night shelter near the jhuggi, with a toilet each for men and women, Devi and other women from the area don’t use the toilets as they are dirty and lack a sewerage system.
Sometimes, they say, the authorities don’t allow them to use the toilets. Not that relieving themselves in the open is any less troublesome. Forming the hood of a snake with her hand, Devi says, “Sometimes, we are forced to run half-naked if we spot one.”
From fear of snakes to incidents of sexual assault, to being forced to use filthy toilets, the plight of Devi, and others like her, stands out against the backdrop of the Aam Aadmi Party government’s claims that it is making the capital open defecation-free.
In the government’s radio advertisements, a woman can be heard saying: “Chachi ye toh sahi hai, pehle khule mein jaate the, kitna kharab lagta tha. Ab Dilli sarkar ne kitne badiya toilets bana ke diye hain, mein to nahane bhi wahin jaati hoon aur kapde dhone bhi.”
The government has ambitious plans to make toilets accessible to all, especially women. Since coming to power, it has constructed around 7,000 toilet seats and plans to construct 7,000 more before March 31 this year. The Indian Express spent four days at eight JJ clusters across districts (see box), and found that this is a lot easier said than done.
Fear of the dark
While dirty toilets are an obvious problem, women in Devi’s area say they do not want to step out after dark to relieve themselves as they fear being assaulted. They recount one such incident that happened in 2016 at another jhuggi 2 km away. A 16-year-old girl had gone out to relieve herself when she was stabbed by her 20-year-old neighbour for resisting his advances. The girl survived, but is undergoing treatment at a Delhi hospital.
Meena, a 19-year-old Delhi University student from the area, says the government set up 10 prefabricated toilets last month. “But how can one walk 2 km at night? All we can do is try and control it,” she says. Guddu, an activist, had pushed for eight months to set up the toilets and explains how tedious the process can be.
“First, a proposal was sent to DUSIB, which sent it to the state pollution control board to conduct an environmental impact assessment. Eventually, work started, but even then there were obstacles. Sometimes the contractor would not turn up, and once some policemen took me to the station to question me about construction work on the floodplain. I had to show them documents before they let me go,” says Guddu.
He has now been made the de-facto caretaker of the toilets — a job he does not like. “People here don’t want to pay money (Re 1)… and I have to clean the entire toilet. Plus, I don’t get paid and the contractor asks me to manage on my own,” he says. The 10 toilets are meant to serve about 1,500 jhuggis from DND to Akshardham, says Shakeel, member of the NGO, Delhi Housing Rights Task Force.
R R Singla, executive engineer of this circle, DUSIB, says the entire stretch has many jhuggis that are not recognised by the government. “Pucca toilets cannot be constructed here. Instead, prefabricated toilets were set up by the engineering department. An agency is responsible for maintaining the toilets, and paying the caretaker. Guddu has complained regarding his salary and I have forwarded it to the department concerned. Action will be taken soon,” he says.
A hard day’s work
Speaking to caretakers at many toilet complexes suggests that while official apathy is one factor, there is also a dire need for civic sense. At one of the biggest toilet complexes in Kalkaji’s Bhoomiheen Camp, the caretaker, Sonu Kumar Jha says the area doesn’t look like it’s part of the capital.
Jha, who has earlier worked with the sulabh shauchalaya in Chhattisgarh, says, “People defecate even where they are supposed to bathe.” Jha joined the complex, inaugurated on January 10 by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, on February 22. And he’s already thinking of changing jobs. He carries a plastic soft-drink bottle filled with washing powder and every time someone comes to use the toilet, he thrusts it towards them so that they can wash their hands.
“Around 3,000 people come here daily and many don’t want to pay. If we insist, they threaten us. They drink alcohol and dump the liquor bottles inside latrines, clogging the entire system. They burn mugs with cigarettes and have broken more than 300 water taps. I don’t understand why they do it,” says Jha, pointing to a room where a heap of broken plastic water taps lies in a corner.
Jha and his colleague have been given an almost barren room inside the complex for their stay. In one corner are packets of washing powder called 555; beside it is a small gas cylinder and a few potatoes. Sitting on a plywood bed — the only other comfortable thing in his room is a worn-out sofa — Jha says, “This is our life, I don’t even get proper sleep. But something is better than nothing.”
DUSIB has given the contract to maintain the toilet to an NGO, Social Skill Vision Society, which in turn employs Jha. NGO member Mukesh Singh says they bid Rs 431 per toilet seat, apart from a one-time licence fee of Rs 1.5 lakh.
“I pay around Rs 66,000 every month and then I have to pay the cleaners and caretakers. In the last one-and-a-half months, I have paid Rs 36,000 as electricity charges — more than what it should be. I am running into losses and have written to the DUSIB about it,” says Singh, adding that since January 10, he has changed 350 water taps. Many pipes have been stolen from the premises. “People even stole plants kept near the entrance,” he says.
While toilets across the capital are being inaugurated with much fanfare, they lack any upkeep whatsoever. Executive Engineer P K Mittal of DUSIB, under whose jurisdiction the Kalkaji complex falls under, says, “There is some complication as the previous NGO in-charge of the complex did not pay all their bills. We are working on it and will sort out the issue soon,” says Mittal.
No way to live
With toilets either defunct or too far, people often have to get inventive. Take, for instance, the 350 jhuggis in southwest Delhi’s East Kidwai Nagar, where residents have erected a single makeshift toilet seat precariously balanced in the middle of a naala. While each household has a toilet, there is no sewage system. Locals say refuse from the toilet goes directly into the naala right beside their homes. The water has been stagnant for the last few months because of ongoing construction, making it a perfect breeding ground for disease. The jhuggis, incidentally, are located next to the building of the National Human Rights Commission at INA.
Mathura Das, pradhan of the jhuggis, says he has written to several authorities highlighting their deplorable living conditions. One such letter, purportedly written on March 1, talks about the foul smell due to chemicals being dumped into the naala by a construction company. He says the hygiene levels are so low that people fall sick often.
The other major issue, people say, is of too few toilets for large populations. At Cigarettewala Bagh in Model Town , a 43-year-old woman died in July 2015 while crossing the road to use a mobile public toilet. A year-and-a-half later, a permanent toilet has come up in the area. Women who spoke to The Indian Express said they find it safer compared to relieving themselves in the park, but the wait here is far too long.
Roads running between jhuggis have been dug up to lay sewer lines, but with work at a standstill for the last one month, water has accumulated around households. “Forget toilets, we step out of our house and it seems like a drain,” says Tri Mohan, a shopkeeper.
Naturi Lal, a resident, says men usually go to the adjoining park as the eight toilet seats at the complex are not sufficient. Pointing to the park, he says the area where women used to defecate has now been converted into a nursery.
Half a kilometre away is another cluster of 100 jhuggis, just ahead of Model Town Metro station. Three toilets in the jhuggis inexplicably remain locked and residents, especially the 125 women and girls, use a private, one-seater toilet built during the Commonwealth Games.
One of them is 65-year-old Maya Devi, who has lived in the JJ cluster for the last 32 years. Maya does not use the sole toilet, as the waiting time is too long, and instead goes in the open. But she says she “cannot sit in that position for too long and has to go at least three times”. Every night, says she has rusk and a few cups of tea so she “doesn’t feel the urge” to defecate. Arjun, the pradhan of this jhuggi cluster, claims that the AAP had promised a 40-seater toilet complex, “but nothing has happened in the last two years”.
Area MLA Akhilesh Pati Tripathi blames the DDA for the delay and says the complex will soon come up on an elevated platform in the park.“After DDA’s land commissioner approved the complex, the horticulture department delayed it stating that toilets cannot be set up in a green-belt area. The matter is now resolved and the toilets will be operational in the next 25 days,” says Tripathi.
A matter of safety
The burden of lack of toilets weighs more heavily on women, who say they have to recce an area before they relieve themselves. And going in the middle of the night, they say, is out of the question. In Rohini’s Sector 26, two minor girls were raped last month when they went to relieve themselves in a vacant plot. Nearby, at Badli village in Rohini’s Sector 19, there’s just one toilet complex for 800-plus jhuggis. Kusum (50), who hails from Azamgarh, says there are three women in her home. “If all of us keep standing in a queue, the kids will miss school. So we go outside as it is faster,” she says.
Caretaker Manmohan Singh says he asked DUSIB to increase the number of toilet seats. “But the authorities said if they need to construct one more floor of toilets, the entire building has to be razed down and built from scratch,” he says. Pradhan Mahender Singh says requests made to authorities to put up a few mobile toilets fell on deaf ears.
In outer Delhi’s Shahbad Dairy area, residents say sexual harassment is common, with many cases going unreported. While two toilet complexes, 400 mts apart, have been built in the area, residents prefer going out in the open. Phool Singh, the caretaker of one of the complexes who is disabled, says, “Most residents don’t use the toilets as they don’t want to pay for its use. They carry bottles of water and go out out in the open.”
Sultana, a mother of two who lives in the area, says they do not want to pay for using the toilet when they can go out in the open for free. “There are four elderly people in my family. We cannot afford to pay every time someone has to relieve themselves,” she says.
No water, electricity
Between Punjabi Bagh and Ashok Park Main Metro station in west Delhi, is Golden Park jhuggi. A single public toilet built by DUSIB caters to its 500-odd residents. Arjun Kumar (23), a father of three who lives in the same jhuggi, is the caretaker of the toilet. He says about 230 people use the toilet, and that it is cleaned twice a day.
However, maintaining the toilet, especially the women’s complex, is a problem. According to Kumar, there is no direct water supply in the women’s section. “Women have to take water from a drum nearby. Sometimes, women relieve themselves on the floor beside the latrines,” he says.
Kumar adds that electricity is another issue in the area. “For the past few months, there has been no power supply in the complex. A month ago, I set up generators but even they have stopped working,” he says. Executive Engineer Anil Aggarwal of Circle 4, DUSIB, says the earlier NGO did not pay the bills on time, following which BSES cut off supply. “We are also looking into the water supply issue,” he says.
8 clusters, common problems
No. of jhuggis: 1,500
No. of toilets: Two toilets each at one night shelter, and 10 prefabricated toilets 200 mts from Mayur Vihar Phase 1 Metro station
Main problem: Toilets are badly maintained, women don’t want to walk 2 km at night to relieve themselves for fear of being assaulted; sometimes they encounter snakes.
Bhoomiheen Camp, Kalkaji
No. of jhuggis: 2,500
No. of toilets: Newly constructed complex
(142 seats, 6 baths)
Main problem: Lack of civic sense. Many people break taps, clog toilets with liquor bottles, refuse to pay
the fee. They have also burnt mugs with cigarettes and broken more
than 300 water taps.
Southwest Delhi’s East Kidwai Nagar
No. of jhuggis: 350
No. of toilets: Each house has toilets, but no sewage system
Main problem: Refuse from the toilet goes directly into the naala, which is stagnant, making it a perfect breeding ground for diseases. Authorities yet to take action.
Cigarettewala Bagh, Model Town
No. of jhuggis: 200
No. of toilets: 1 permanent toilet complex
Main problem: Residents relieve themselves in the open as the wait at the toilet complex is too long; roads have been dug up to lay sewer lines; work has come to a standstill, turning the area into a drain.
Hanuman Mandir jhuggi, Model Town Metro station
No of jhuggis: 100
No of toilets: Three toilet seats (which are locked); 2 private toilet seats (shuts at 9 pm)
Main problem: Toilets are mostly locked; AAP had promised a 40-seater toilet complex but nothing has come up in the last two years.
Badli village, Rohini Sector 19
No. of jhuggis: 800
No. of toilets: 1 toilet complex
Main problem: Not enough toilets; safety issues cropped up after two minor girls were raped last month. Requests made to authorities to put up more mobile toilets.
Outer Delhi’s Shahbad Daultapur Block E
No. of jhuggis: 2,000 (approx)
No. of toilets: 2 newly constructed toilet complexes, 400 mts apart
Main problem: Sexual harassment is common and many cases go unreported; residents don’t want to pay for using toilets.
Golden Park jhuggi, West Delhi
No. of jhuggis/residents: 500 residents
No. of toilets: 1 toilet complex built by DUSIB
Main problem: Toilets meant for women are often not clean, no direct water supply in the women’s section, no electricity.
In a survey conducted by the Delhi government last year, it was found that there are 254 open defecation spots in the capital. Of the 3 lakh families living across 750 JJ clusters, 50 per cent defecate in the open.
Delhi Needs Close to 15,000 Toilet Seats to Become Open Defecation-Free
AAP government inaugurated close to 7,000 toilets seats in two years, 500 toilet seats in December last year
In addition, there are 265 community toilet complexes in JJ clusters which have:
7,127 toilet seats
174 pucca complexes
52 prefab toilets
39 mobile toilet vans
(Source: Delhi govt, DUSIB)
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