Photographs on a billboard of those caught defecating in the open, a dhol-tasha band to accompany them home, or, in some cases, detention in a police chowkey. These are among the public shaming methods being used by various urban local bodies in Maharashtra as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government races to announce by this month-end that at least a hundred towns and cities across the state are now free of open defecation.
The Sangola Municipal Council in Solapur district, for instance, has already declared itself an ‘open defecation free’ place. Officials here would take photographs of those who defecated in the open despite an accessible toilet. These images would then be displayed on a digital billboard outside the council office.
Out of the 7,908 families surveyed, the administration had found 2,264 that didn’t have access to toilets.
Chief Officer of the Sangola Municipal Council Ramakant Dake said, “We first repaired our 350 existing public toilets, provided water and electricity, fixed the doors properly and improved hygiene levels so that no one can say we have to go out in the open because the public toilets are not up to the mark.” Dake said the council also urged people to apply for the Rs 17,000 aid jointly provided by the state government and the local body for construction of individual toilets.
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“It is only then that we started taking certain measures to change the habits of people. There would also be people carrying iPhones and wearing gold chains coming in four-wheelers and then defecating in the open just because they were used to it. We had a digital board outside the council office to display photos of those caught,” Dake said.
The Gadhinglaj Municipal Council in Kolhapur district similarly first constructed and spruced up toilets to cater to its population of 79,997. However, once that was done, officials resorted to warnings, followed by fines, to deter people from defecating out in the open. At the third offence, the offender would be dropped home in a public procession accompanied by halgis, a drum played with two sticks.
“Despite warnings, if someone is found going out in the open to defecate, we had instructed our teams to follow such people home with a procession. Using toilets was much better than suffering social embarrassment, so people started doing so,” said Gadhinglaj Chief Officer Tanaji Narale, adding that the council had to do that only in a handful of cases.
The town conducted a survey and found that 116 families of its total population were accustomed to defecating in the open, and these were mostly concentrated in two or three pockets.
Jaysingpur, also in Kolhapur district with a population of 48,510, established ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’
teams to roam around places identified as open-defecation spots, and where the council had provided clean toilets to prevent open defecation.
The teams would do the rounds every morning and evening, fine Rs 100 for the first offence, and detain second-time offenders at police stations and register cases.
Jaysingpur Chief Officer Hemant Nikam said, “We installed water tanks and appointed staff to fill them with water every day, we repaired toilets. We are maintaining them well, and even use toilet fresheners. Wherever we have provided toilets, people should use them. Moreover, our teams have also levelled open-defecation spots and converted them to playground and walking tracks.”
At Kankavli, a town in the Sindhudurg district, walking home with a red rose was awkward, so people not in the habit of using toilets began to use them. Avadhut Tavade, Kankavli’s chief officer, said, “The problem in Kankavli wasn’t very acute as almost none of the local residents were defecating in the open. It was mostly the migrant labourers, for whom we made it mandatory for contractors to construct toilets. We found a spot in the town where there were some cases of open defecation. We would give the offenders red roses.”
Tavade said if people still didn’t start using toilets, at the second and third offence, the council would fine them and file FIRs. The council registered 26 such cases before it became open-defecation free.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has recently faced residents’ ire for public shaming of people defecating in the open where the number of toilet seats available is nowhere near the numbers needed, According to the records of the Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) department, there are a total of 79,542 toilet seats in the city, catering to about 24 lakh people living in Mumbai’s slums. However, with the total slum population being 64.7 lakh as per the 2001 census, these toilet blocks currently serve only 37 per cent of the population.
The state government has declared 51 towns and one municipal corporation (Kolhapur) free of open defecation as of February this year, and is in the process of adding another 50 to the list by the the end of May.
Manisha Mhaiskar, Principal Secretary, Urban Development, said, “After a town has provided adequate public toilet facilities and has offered unit subsidy of up to Rs 17,000 for the construction of individual toilets, then people are expected to use these.”