Locating a public comfort station can be a daunting task in the city. Chances are that you will run around the streets in search of one, sometimes even going past it without noticing. If lack of sufficient numbers is the first problem as far as public toilets are concerned, tracing the existing ones can be even more tiresome.

Armed with a list of 18 pay-and-use public toilets run by the City Corporation and six others run by Sulabh International, an effort to locate them turned out to be a draining exercise. At several places, even the local people and shopkeepers were unaware of the exact location of the toilets. The reason: many of these are hidden from ‘public’ view.

At Poojappura, the public toilet is located away from the main road, on the side-road towards Mudavanmugal. A dingy room with no display board, located behind a teashop, serves as the public toilet. Even if someone pinpoints the location to you, this one could miss your eye, a pointer to the obvious lack of thought that went into the process of identifying the location.

The situation is similar at Thirumala, where the toilet is in a small alley behind the main road. Display boards are absent here too. But, the unbearable stench tells you it is somewhere close by.

At the Palayam Market, the toilet, a little away from the entry point, also can miss your eye, even though there is a ‘toilet’ board. The condition of the toilet is pathetic. The stench is such. And the toilet at Thycaud, which is on the Corporation’s list, remained untraceable.

Unfastened doors

The struggle does not end with locating the toilet. In fact, it has just begun, since finding one where the doors can be latched is tough. The concept of fastening the door seems to be absent here, with most toilet doors having no latch. In some places, they have a ‘rope and nail arrangement’ to shut the door from inside. Some have only the rope, and you are expected to hold the door tightly shut through the duration of your stay, or hum aloud to alert anyone who might be in a hurry to get in.

As we move towards busier spots in the city, including the ever-bustling Thampanoor, locating the toilet gets a little easier . The Sulabh-operated ‘comfort station’ at Thampanoor is opposite the Ponnara Sreedhar Park. There is a huge signboard, but reaching the spot through the maze of buses, autorickshaws and the crowd can be excruciating.

A little further, near the entrance to the Putharikandam Grounds, there is another Sulabh-operated pay-and-use toilet. Make sure your purse contains enough change, since the charges are Rs..5 for a bath and Rs.3 to use the latrine. Imagine running short of change in the most testing of times! The caretaker, Santosh, says the comfort station is maintained quite well. In the mornings, auto and bus drivers, and some passengers alighting at East Fort, make a beeline for the station.

However, even during daytime, there are a few situations most would not be happy about. A few persons are seen loitering around the premises most of the time, with evident gestures soliciting sex. The situation at night, especially safety of women, remains a major question at all these comfort stations.

Shashidharan has been operating on contract the pay-and-use toilet-bath facility near Thekkekota for nearly 30 years now. The comfort station has a proper display board and is located on the roadside. It is maintained well, except for days when Shashidharan and his assistant, Srikumar, find water in short supply. They have sought the help of the Corporation to modify the premises and ensure better facilities, but a tussle between the Corporation and the Archaeology Department, with the facility located close to the heritage walls of the fort, has kept any improvement on hold, he says.

“We get around Rs.500 on busy days, and on days like Attukal Pongala, the collection goes up slightly. But even then, we cannot do much to improve the facilities. Then there is a drainage issue that the Corporation has not solved yet,” says Srikumar.

The worst affected

Tourists, auto and taxi drivers, migrant workers, marketing agents and city dwellers who travel regularly are the ones who are the worst affected by the scarcity of toilets. Many major areas of the city like Sasthamangalam, Vattiyoorkavu and Pattom are missing from the public toilet map.

“There is a huge scarcity of toilets in the city. As per international standards, a city of Thiruvananthapuram’s spread and population should have a minimum of 500 toilets, equally spread over the city. But we have only 24. We should follow the model put forward by Linfen city in China, a city of six lakh population, which had only 12 public toilets five years back. The government took it upon itself to change the city’s misnomer of ‘the worst city to live in’ and built 200 toilets in a year. The U.N. has put forward this as a model to follow,” says M. Vijayakumaran Nair, Joint Secretary of the NGO Environmental and Developmental Initiatives for Thiruvananthapuram (EDIT).

“Public toilets are few in number even on M.G. Road,” admits Palayam Rajan, chairperson of the Corporation’s Welfare standing committee. The Corporation has included projects to build more pay-and-use toilets in the city in this year’s plan, Mr. Rajan adds.

“They will be modelled on toilet facilities in Delhi and will be located on main roads. The front portion will be let out for advertising,” he adds.

Till then, if the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation’s toilet map is tough to negotiate through, spending a little cash to buy a cup of tea and depending on toilets in hotels may be the way out.