It may be hard to believe, but it is true. Anyone travelling the length of the rural belt of Delhi that stretches from Badarpur border in South-East Delhi all the way to Narela in the northern periphery of the city, will not find a public toilet along the way. The reason being: all these years no one constructed any.
And while many believe the rural population knows best how to use the fields and forests for answering the call of nature, such an approach has not helped the cause of rural women, for whom not a single public toilet exists.
“The worst sufferers are the women, for whom it is not only a matter of dignity but also of safety,” said Devinder Sehrawat of Delhi Gramin Samaj, while noting that repeated requests for such facilities have fallen on deaf ears.
His words ring true as many women in the past have fallen victims to sexual crimes while answering the call of nature in the forests or open fields.
The shortage of toilets for women in Delhi was recently highlighted by a public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court and the court sought replies from the three Delhi Municipal Corporations.
It has been brought out that of the public toilets in existence across Delhi, only about 5 per cent are meant for women. Of the approximately 3,200 urinals in Delhi, only about 130 are for women.
So, while men can be seen relieving themselves on roadsides, for women travelling long distances through rural Delhi that stretches nearly 100 km along its southern, western and northern areas, this poses a huge health and safety problem.
When it comes to the rural population, Mr. Sehrawat said even the statistics doled out are manipulated to hide their plight. “The glaring fact brushed under the carpet is that the public facilities in Delhi are mostly concentrated in three municipal zones primarily of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation and in posh colonies. So while the Corporations may rattle out any number of figures, they do not reflect the reality of rural areas on the ground.”
“Out of the total 1,483 square kilometre area of Delhi, over 500 square kilometres with a population of over 30 lakh and covering 360 villages is thus bereft of such facilities,” he said.
In South Delhi Municipal Corporation, he said there are about 500 toilets but most of them are concentrated in commercial areas. Expressing concern at the findings, Chairman of Central Zone of South DMC Virender Kasana said it was unfortunate that while construction of toilets and ensuring sanitation was one of the prime responsibilities of MCD, it has failed to do so. The Congress councillor said: “The civic body also has three departments for construction and maintenance of public toilets and thus it is inexplicable why it had failed to discharge this statutory duty.”
Leader of House of South DMC Subhash Arya said: “When people demand a toilet we construct it”. Unable to explain the reasons behind the failure of the corporation to do so all these years, he said in the current budget a sum of Rs.5 crore has been earmarked for construction of public toilets.
Another BJP leader, however, contended that often such proposals face opposition from the villagers. “They resist the construction of toilets and dhalao (garbage bins) in their villages or near their agricultural land.” But he too could not explain why public toilets have not been constructed alongside main roads in the whole of rural Delhi.
Chairman of the Environment Committee of Delhi Assembly Hari Shankar Gupta said this was a matter of serious concern and he would raise it in the next panel meeting. “We have been raising the issue of public toilets for the last couple of years but the civic bodies hid this fact from us that no public toilets existed in the rural areas. They only furnished zone wise information to us,” said the Congress MLA.
Senior Delhi Nationalist Congress Party leader Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, who is a former Badarpur MLA, said: “I will ask the six councillors of my party, who represent wards in the Badarpur, Tughlaqabad and Mehrauli Assembly segments, to forcefully raise this issue in the South DMC.”
“The MCD has sufficient land for creating such facilities for the welfare and safety of women and the other citizens and there is no reason why public toilet blocks can not be constructed in the rural areas,” he said.