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Mumbai’s long road to ODF

A BMC drive had found 118 open defecation spots across the city which, it says, have been eliminated by mitigation measures; The Indian Express visits four such locations where open defecation continues unabated.

Written by Laxman Singh , Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: October 1, 2019 5:04:51 am
A community toilet at Sanjay Nagar, where there have been complaints of yellowish tap water and electricity cuts. Express

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to declare India an Open Defecation Free (ODF) country on October 2, the financial capital Mumbai still grapples with the problem that many have raised a stink about. Early morning, the city’s beaches, sea shores and slum pockets are no stranger to bucket-wielding open spot seekers out to relieve themselves.

The definition of ODF as per the Swachh Bharat Mission guidelines (urban) is, a city can be declared an Open Defecation Free city when “not a single person is found defecating in the open”.

However, in Mumbai, which was declared ODF more than two years ago, that is hardly a struggle. Spread over 437 square kilometres with about 1.24 crore population, the city was first declared ODF on January 7, 2017 by the Quality Council of India (QCI). Subsequently, the ODF tag was re-validated on July 6, 2017, January 2, 2018 and August 18, 2018.

When the BMC started a drive for ODF, it had found 118 open defecation spots across the city. But, according to the civic body, now all the spots have been eliminated by mitigation measures. The Indian Express visited four such locations where open defecation continues unabated on account of shortage of toilets or the unavailability of clean ones.

Kamala Raman Nagar and Padma Nagar, Govandi

With fewer toilet seats and maximum number of dilapidated toilets, Govandi and Mankhurd are worst affected and see rampant open defecation.

Majid Khan (30), a resident of Kamala Raman Nagar near Rafeeq Ul Urdu School, has to go in the open to answer nature’s call before sunrise. Khan says that the locality never had enough toilets and, recently, it got worse when a couple of months back, the toilet at Sahi Naka was demolished to construct a new one.

“I have to defecate in the open in the morning near the dumping ground road. As there are no toilets, my six-year-old son also squats in the open. The unhygienic conditions often lead to health issues like diarrhoea. Nobody wants to defecate in the open but there aren’t enough toilets,” says Khan.

A report prepared by NGO Apnalaya had revealed the plight of people living in Shivaji Nagar. According to the report, 145 people use one toilet daily in Shivaji Nagar. This is much behind the standard ratio under which one toilet should not be used by more than 25 people daily. As the wait can be up to 20-30 minutes it discourages people to use the toilet.

Last year, the BMC had conducted a structural audit of public toilets which revealed that most of the 346 extremely dilapidated toilets are in M-east ward (Govandi, Mankhurd).

Shadab Ansari, who lives in Padma Nagar within a kilometre of Kamala Raman Nagar, says that the demolition of existing toilets and slow progress of construction of new toilets have made life hell. “There were three toilets in the vicinity but all were demolished a few months back. Now, all the burden lies on a pay-and-use toilet located in Rafeeq Nagar, which is also in a poor condition. A few people have constructed toilets in their houses but the majority is dependent on community toilets. Now, because of a shortage of toilets, residents defecate in the open on the 90-feet road near the dumping ground,” says Ansari.

The Swachh Bharat guidelines mandate that each community toilet must have mirror, soap dispenser, running water, electricity and bulbs, proper ventilation and must be mopped regularly. In Sanjay Nagar slums, Zarine Bano- whose two children aged 12 and nine months use the community toilet- complains of yellowish tap water in the toilet. “Sometimes electricity is not there. They get scared of going in the dark,” Bano says. Her husband earns Rs 10,000 a month; the family spends Rs 450 on toilets. “I pay Rs 2 to use the toilet. I can’t afford it,” says Rajabai Waghmare, a ragpicker. She uses a toilet because an NGO counselled her but maintains she cannot afford it for long.

Polio-affected teenager Aamir Shah lies on a mattress in his two-storey slum house. When he wants to urinate, his mother holds a plastic bottle and, for defecation, she places a newspaper. “There is no facility for handicapped children to use toilets,” says his relative Noorjahan Shah.

Gareeb Nagar, IIT-Market, Powai

This area sees open defecation on a small plot as the community toilet is dirty and dilapidated.

Ramesh Jadhav, a local resident, has been fighting for re-construction of the only community toilet in the area. He claims that in the absence of safe and clean toilets, many from the locality go for open defecation. “The existing toilet is in a dilapidated condition and we fear that its septic tank can collapse anytime. Even the BMC had put up a warning notice discouraging people from using this toilet. But people don’t have an option and are forced to use it. Also, early morning, there is a long queue because of which many residents defecate in an open plot adjacent to the toilet,” says Jadhav.

Jadhav adds, “There are 250-300 houses dependent upon this 16-seat toilet. And often due to overuse it gets clogged.”

Another resident, Kaushal Maurya, blames the authorities for the daily ordeal and says the unhygienic condition of the toilet is a serious concern. “Before the Lok Sabha elections, politicians promised that it will be demolished and a new one constructed. Even some construction material was brought to the site but later nothing happened. The worst-affected are children and women. If children wait in line at the toilet, they miss school. Also, most of the time, it is very dirty,” says Maurya.

Kajupada, Kurla

Residents of Shastri Nagar in Kajupada, Kurla are often spotted defecating in the open near a drain at the pipeline road. The reason for open defecation in this area is inadequate number of community toilets. Ifteqar Khan, a resident of Shastri Nagar, says that though the condition of toilets is good but the number is insufficient. “There is one toilet with over 17 seats. The locality needs at least one more toilet with double capacity. Those who are not well and have health problems cannot wait and defecate in the open,” says Khan.

RTI activist Anil Galgali says that apart from Kajupada, in Jarimari Nagar at Kurla area open defecation is rampant.

Bandra Reclamation and Worli Koliwada

Along with the slums, beach and sea areas also witness open defecation. Despite all the claims of the civic body about ODF, Bandra Reclamation and Mahim Causeway are most common spots for open defecation.

“Early morning several people living in the nearby slums can be seen defecating in the open at Bandra Reclamation. This happens due to lack of toilets or poor cleanliness in the available ones. The other option is pay-and-use toilets but people like us will feel the pinch by paying Rs 3-5 daily for toilet use,” says a resident living in slums near Bandra Reclamation.

“On paper Mumbai is declared as Open Defecation Free but one can visit Worli Seaface early morning just to check how the city has a long way to go for ODF,” says Paras Salunkhe, a morning walker at Worli Seaface. Areas like Macchimar Nagar in Colaba, Mahim Causeway, Mahim beach, Sion-Dharavi bridge, below Amar Mahal junction flyover, Khardanda in Juhu, Nargis Dutt Nagar and Carter Road in Bandra still witnesses open defecation.

Why the problem persists

One of the key reasons for open defecation is lack of toilets and safe sanitation. Many people complain of proper cleanliness of public as well as community toilets. This discourages them from using the toilets.

Another reason is habit. Despite there being toilets, people go and defecate in the open. Activist Mushtaq Ansari says that many people defecate in the open due to habit. “For example, near the Sion-Dharavi bridge many truck drivers who park their vehicles defecate in the open on the bridge. People need to be educated and taught why use of toilet is necessary.”

He added, “The BMC has stopped action against those defecating in the open. The civic body should start penalising those not using toilets and defecating in the open.”

In addition, multiple reasons have forced children to take to the dumping ground or open drains – lack of adequate community toilets, shortage of platforms suited for children to squat, cost of using toilets and lack of water and electricity supply in toilets.

Earlier, after the BMC had got the ODF tag in 2017, the civic body had formed 36 teams called ‘Good Morning Squad’ to locate people defecating in the open and convince them to use toilets. If the “offence” was repeated, they were fined. “However, now action by the squad has been almost zero since many months. They only start taking action when the team of Quality Control of India visits for re-validation of the tag,” said a BMC official.

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