A quarter of all new public restrooms in Indian cities will soon have high-end features such as luxurious bath cubicles, touchless flushing, breast-feeding rooms, and automatic sanitary napkin incinerators. These will be indicated as “aspirational toilets” on Google Maps.
“A directive has been sent to all State governments to ensure that henceforth 25% of public toilet seats added in any city or urban unit are ‘aspirational toilets’,” sources in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs said.
The high-end public conveniences may also have attached libraries, cafes, and shopping complexes to help raise funds for their maintenance and upkeep.
High footfall locations
The focus areas to construct these luxury loos will be tourist and religious destinations, as well as iconic cities. In these cities, places with a high footfall — well-known markets, railway stations, inter-State bus depots and National Highways — will be given preference. The idea is to ensure the presence of such public conveniences in places where people are likely to spend more than three to four hours at a stretch.
Guidelines issued to the States say that the bathrooms will need to be stain- and graffiti-free; have low height toilets and basins for children, a well-maintained patch of greenery around them, hand-dryers and paper napkins readily available, along with vending machines for sanitary napkins. An SMS-based feedback mechanism for users must also be put in place.
Exploring business models
The Ministry has decided to engage start-ups that can build such toilets across the country. A team of experts from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur has been entrusted with the task of screening and evaluating the proposals of these start-ups. So far, 75 companies have been shortlisted, out of which 30 proposals have been finalised. The pilot project will be rolled out by October 2024, the sources said.
One of the business models being explored for the maintenance of these toilets is attaching them with other public services, such as restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, cinema halls, or even medicine shops, to make them self-sustaining.
“In many places like railway stations and airports, people might also be willing to pay for their use,” an official said.
Experts, though, expressed caution. “Before beginning any such project, a proper study has to be done on the location and the way they will be maintained,” Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, said. He added that a good business model to explore would be cross-subsidising the maintenance of these toilets across locations.
The aspirational toilets scheme was launched in September 2022 as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) 2.0, with an aim to help make cities open defecation free.
The Centre has allocated ₹1,41,600 crore to the SBM 2.0, which is 2.5 times more than the money allotted to the first phase of the mission that was launched in 2014.
While the Central government’s share in this budget outlay is only ₹6,465 crore for the period between 2021-22 and 2025-26, the cost sharing pattern with States varies depending on the population of their cities.
As of now, 6,36,826 public toilets have been constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban, against a target of 5,07,587. Since the launch of the mission, 4,355 urban local bodies have been declared open defecation free (ODF), while 3,547 are ODF+ and 1,191 are ODF++. The ODF+ category implies toilets with water, maintenance, and hygiene; ODF++ are toilets with sludge and septage management as well.