EVEN AS the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) claims to make Mumbai an open-defecation free city by installing toilets at 118 odd locations here, city activists pointed out that lack of infrastructure is only part of the problem. While open-defecation is mostly common in areas with a large slum population, activists said that the city needs long-term solutions to ensure it does not become a recurring issue.
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Environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal said that, as the planning authority of the city, the BMC should focus on short, medium and long-term measures to convince people to use toilets. “Toilets are a fundamental human need and the BMC has to provide adequate facilities to ensure that people do not defecate in the open. For that, the long-term focus has to be providing good quality houses with toilets,” he said.
In the past, both the civic body and the corporators had constructed several community toilets in slum pockets, yet people continue to defecate in public.
Aggarwal pointed out that defecating in the open is often a compulsion owing to the dismal condition of the community toilets. “The BMC needs to implement social engineering instead of civil engineering for which they can employ an army of social service students from institutions like the TISS, instead of roping in Bollywood celebrities like Salman Khan. No one with a choice would use those community toilets unless they are kept clean,” he said.
Apart from public places, open defecation is common sight on railway lines, especially along the Harbour line tracks where several slum settlements have cropped up in the past several years. Neither the BMC nor the Railway authorities, however, claim responsibility for either open defecation or garbage hurling onto the railway tracks.
Activist with the Right to Pee campaign and Save Aarey Foundation, Subhash Rane, pointed out that the source of the problem is the lack of a boundary wall along the entire length of railway tracks in the city. “Disposal of solid waste anywhere is solely the duty of the BMC. The slums located adjacent to the railway lines are always tossing their garbage onto the tracks and people without access to clean toilets prefer to finish their morning business there. As a solution, the BMC and the Railways can coordinate and simply seal the boundary walls along railway tracks to ensure no trespassing,” he said.
Around nine months ago, the BMC had constructed a toilet block below the skywalk in Bandra east, which was later demolished by the Western Railways, calling it illegal due to absence of permission. Agreeing to the stand of better coordination between government agencies, another activist Samir Zaveri of the Mumbai Suburban Railway Passenger Association said, “The number of toilet seats in slums are not proportionate to the population of the area due to which people look for options. The government has to provide a far higher number of bio toilets in such areas”. He added that construction of more toilets can be taken up using CSR funds from companies with the cooperation of government agencies, especially MbPT, BMC and the Railways.