TAKING COGNIZANCE of NGO Apnalaya’s report on how 145 people share one public toilet seat in Govandi, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has ordered the commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to formulate a scheme, within three months, on increasing the number of toilets in slums, especially Shivaji Nagar that houses 11.5 per cent of the city’s slum population.
The BMC records show that Shivaji Nagar has 3,023 toilet seats for 8.81 lakh people. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan norms state that there must be at least one toilet seat for 25 women and one for 35 men in community public toilets.
“Even if we have to arrive at 50 people per toilet seat, we still need three times the number of actual toilet seats. The number has to go up to 9,069 functional toilet seats,” Justice M A Sayeed, member of the human rights commission, said in the order.
The commission, in its order issued in the last week of May, observed that “lack of sanitation directly impedes right to life and health as it encourages the transmission of many infectious diseases, including cholera, typhoid. Lack of sanitation thwarts the right to dignity”.
According to NGO Apnalaya’s findings, toilets of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) in Shivaji Nagar, located in Govandi near the landfill, do not have water connection, doors or electricity, and the ones managed by corporators are paid toilets that charge people Rs 2 per trip. “Even the toilets with water get yellowish water from a borewell, so they cannot be used,” the inquiry report found.
The commission directed the BMC and NGO Apnalaya to conduct a detailed inquiry into public toilets and work together to formulate a plan.
The commission also noted that many toilets are shut at night, forcing women to walk long distances to relieve themselves. The commission also said the timings of toilets must be reconsidered in Govandi as it directly affects accessibility.
It further directed the BMC to appoint female security personnel in women’s toilets, install western toilets for senior citizens, apart from basic facilities of dustbin, water, and electricity.
In its response to the suo motu notice issued by the commission, the BMC had submitted that in 2016-17, the total budget allocated for general repairs of toilet blocks was Rs 6.1 crore, which fell to Rs 5.48 crore in 2017-18. While the population served in M-East ward rose by two lakh from 6.75 lakh people between 2017-18 and 2018-19, the budget further fell to Rs 5.44 crore.
As of now, the average waiting time for slum dwellers to use a toilet varies from half an hour to one hour in the morning. Citing the example of reserved land near New Shivaji Nagar bus depot that has come under the ownership of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST), the commission in its order came down heavily on the civic body directing it to utilise plots reserved under the development plan for public facility only for public use, and not for other entities.
The NGO, Apnalaya, which works in 12 clusters in Shivaji Nagar, conducted an in-depth study to assess requirement of toilets as per population, and found the gap of access to toilets highest in M-East ward.
“Human beings cannot be forced to live the life of an animal, neither can they be deprived of their constitutional right to live with honour and dignity. Therefore, meeting the challenge is an uphill task but a there has to be a start somewhere to ensure a clean and healthy environment,” the commission said after reading the NGO’s report.
An official from the BMC’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, however, said with high population density and land starved of space, it is difficult to construct new toilets in Shivaji Nagar.
The commission has directed the BMC to form a team of experts, who will be able to plug the gap and increase the accessibility of public toilets.
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