WITH almost zero income in the last two months due to the lockdown, over a thousand public toilets in the city are struggling to pay salaries to their staff and ensure round-the-clock upkeep.
Given the Covid-19 outbreak, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), on April 16, had ordered all pay-and-use toilets in the city to offer their services free of charge. The move sought to make the facilities more accessible to the poor and the migrant labourers. However, in the absence of any income, the NGOs operating these toilets have claimed that paying salaries to the staff and electricity bills, besides maintaining cleanliness at the facilities had become an uphill task.
There are around 1,100 such toilets across Mumbai. Public toilets usually charge between Rs 2 and Rs 5 per person for using the toilet and Rs 10 for bathing, even as urinals are free. While the civic body provides the land, construction and operation of such facilities are undertaken by NGOs on a pay-and-use basis.
Dhiraj Gohil, chairman of Mumbai’s Public Sanitary Conveniences (PSC) Association, an umbrella body for such public toilets, said staff salaries and maintenance expenses were usually borne out of the money toilets charge from the public. “For the last two months, income has trickled to zero. But expenditure on these toilets has soared to ensure a higher sanitation level. Earlier, the toilets were cleaned three times a day, but now we clean them at least five times daily. Also, we provide hand sanitisers, masks, and gloves to the sanitation staff, which has only increased our financial burden,” said Gohil, who operates many public pay-and-use toilets at Bandra and Borivali.
According to the association, each public toilet employs at least three staffers for a monthly salary of around Rs 7,000. An operator, it said, usually earns around Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 per month from one public toilet.
Amid Covid-19 crisis, the civic body had asked public toilets to maintain high standards of cleanliness. While bleach, phenyl and soaps were used to clean toilets earlier, now they have been told to use disinfectants extensively. In many toilets, staff have also been given personal protection equipment (PPE) kits to prevent them from infection, costs for which are also incurred by the NGOs.
“We have provided PPE kits to our staff. Plus, we have to pay around Rs 1,500 electricity bill each month. Use of water has also increased. These are all additional expenses. As there is no income, we are now spending money from our savings to run these services. We had welcomed the state government’s decision to make these toilets cost-free at the time of pandemic as we knew the poor would not be able to pay anything since their earnings had stopped. Now we are in a tight spot as well,” said Kishor Chavda, of Swagat Seva Mandal, an NGO which runs a public toilet at Zaveri Bazaar.
When approached, Ashok Yamgar, chief engineer of the Solid Waste Management department, said the civic body has proposed to reinstate the charges for public toilets. “We are aware of the problem faced by NGOs since they do not have income. Considering this we have put up a proposal to restore the pay-and-use charge system,” he said.
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