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Updated: June 8, 2013 13:13 IST

Just a wee bit of trouble in Chennai

Sunitha Sekar
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Clean public toilets are almost a rarity in the city, which has just 960 public facilities for a population of over six million

For a large, rapidly-developing metropolis, Chennai fails spectacularly when it comes to catering to a basic need — providing clean public toilets on its streets.

According to data from the Chennai Corporation, the city has just 960 public toilets for a population of over 6.5 million. And even these are not in the best of shape. The Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Policy, 2012, revealed that close to 67 per cent of the toilets do not satisfy its norm of one toilet for every 60 persons. In fact, a study by research group Transparent Chennai revealed that in undeclared slums, there was, on average, one toilet available per 1,056 people.

D. Neeladevi (name changed), a resident of a slum in Chintadripet shares a toilet with the over 500 people in her locality. The slum has just one public toilet, consisting of two latrines each for men and women as well as a bathroom. “Every morning, when I go to the toilet, there are sanitary napkins and used cloths floating in the latrines. It is simply not possible to step in without a hand over my nose. It is particularly difficult for women, as at times, they have to use the toilet several times a day,” she said.

This is not an isolated case, says Agnes Amala, a researcher at Transparent Chennai. She pointed out that in Mullaima Nagar, in ward 173, there is just one toilet serving a population of 3,500.

Apart from the stench and filth that pervade most public toilets in the city, residents say there are other issues too: men consuming alcohol inside, bad lighting that makes it difficult for women to use after dark and the absence of buckets and mugs.

“In many toilets, there are also leakages because they are not properly connected to septic tanks or drainage outlets. Also, barring a few toilets that are free for use, many do not have caretakers or anybody to maintain them, which leads to their not being cleaned for days at a time. For instance, in Jayalakshmipuram, where the toilet is free, there is no caretaker, there is just one light for four latrines and one mug for two latrines,” Ms. Amala said.

While the ‘pay and use’ toilets in slums are generally better maintained, they often do not serve the purpose they are meant for, said Kamala of Penn Urimai Iyakkam, a women’s social movement. “Public toilets are essential for women from poor economic backgrounds. But even though the toilets charge between Rs. 2 and Rs. 5 per use, I know many women who cannot afford to pay even this amount, especially when they need to use it several times a day,” she said.

A Chennai Corporation official said that each zonal officer was in charge of the maintenance of public toilets in her zone. “Ideally, a sanitary inspector should periodically visit the toilet and report to the officer with regard to its upkeep,” he said.

Last year, the Corporation proposed the installation of 5,000 toilets in the city. Later, the figure was brought down to 2,000. These toilets are meant to be built under a public-private partnershipconstructed with polycarbonate sheets or high-density polyethylene. But a Corporation source said it would take at least two years to finish the installation of these toilets. “The new toilets will be put up in places after demolishing the old ones. But the Corporation does not even have a list of toilets to be demolished and even the tendering process is taking an unusually long time,” the official added.

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