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Unhygienic, bad stench: With no government support, Bengaluru public toilets suffer

Updated: Jul 27, 2021


Though the toilets are built by the BBMP, their maintenance and cleanliness are looked after by unsupported staff at each location.

With a rank of 216, Bengaluru has been sliding down in the Swachh Bharat Survekshan rankings. Along with the rising garbage problem, another reason for this low rank is the lack of public toilets and their poor maintenance.

Many public toilets across the city have broken buckets, leaking taps, damaged commodes, paan spit marks, no dustbin and doors which are half broken or don’t have a lock. Though the toilets are built by the BBMP, their maintenance and cleanliness are looked after by those who are stationed at each of the toilets.

Little government support

TNM visited public toilets in Jayanagar, Yediyur, Wilson Garden, Shantinagar, St Marks Road and Kempe Gowda Road. The toilets were constructed by the BBMP, however, the task of maintaining them was not under their purview. Instead, the person appointed to clean the toilet is responsible to pay for its maintenance, with the money they earn through the collection. They are not given any salary. “We collect Rs 3 or 5 for using the toilet. In a day we make between Rs 400 to Rs 500. With this money, we have to pay for the water, electricity bills and cleaning requirements such as soap and bleaching powder,” said Gauramma, the cleaner at a public toilet in Wilson Garden.

The water for these public toilets is obtained from a tank on alternate days. Yet, the toilets remain unclean, unhygienic with an unbearable stench. “We make a collection of only Rs 500 per day. With this bare minimum, we have to settle all the maintenance bills and take home whatever is left over. We don’t receive any help from the ward councillor,” said Annappa, a cleaner at a public toilet near Yediyur Lake. The cleaner at the toilet opposite to the City Civil Court complex on Kempe Gowda Road said that he was given the job by a BBMP officer. “The BBMP comes to inspect the toilet once in a while. Other than this they have no role to play,” he said. Thus the sole responsibility of maintaining the toilets is left in the hands of those who are struggling to make ends meet.

A toilet on Residency road that was built by Infosys in collaboration with the BBMP remained closed for many years. However, it has recently started to function because of the efforts by the school bus drivers who park their buses along the stretch. “We bus drivers wanted a toilet on this road that we could use. But the toilet was closed and surrounded by heaps of garbage. With support from a volunteer group called The Ugly India, we approached the Shantinagar Councillor, MB Dwarakanath and got the toilet reopened,” said one of the bus drivers. Though the toilet is used even by the general public, it is maintained by the bus drivers themselves. “All the drivers pool in and pay the cleaner that we have appointed. We also give him money to buy cleaning materials like soap and bleaching powder. We receive no aid from the BBMP or the councillor,” said another driver.

BBMP Chief Engineer Vishwanath said that once the BBMP constructs toilets, they give work orders to agencies recommended by zonal joint commissioners. “It is the responsibility of the agencies to pay the toilet cleaners. BBMP does not bear any maintenance costs,” he said.

Inconvenient from women

Archana, working for Reap Benefit an NGO, visited 30 toilets in areas such as Basaweshwara Nagar, Jayanagar, Yelahanka and other regions in north Karnataka to access the condition of toilets. “I visited numerous Sulabh shauchalaya and Nirmala shauchalaya. I noticed that the people who clean these toilets store their cooking vessels, bed and other household materials inside the toilet. They said that since they have to work 24/7, they live in the toilet,” she said. Some toilets didn’t have water supply and were very unsafe for women, she added. Archana called the BBMP helpline and raised a complaint on the poor condition of the toilets, but she failed to receive any response. “The toilets don’t have a dustbin, where are women supposed to throw their sanitary napkins? And in some toilets there is water, but no mug”, she said.

Sumashree, a vegetable vendor at the Jayanagar 4th block market said that she regularly uses the public toilet despite the stench because she has no other option. She said that the flush doesn’t work but she’s thankful that there’s at least water.

Bengaluru falls short

According to the guidelines set for public toilets by the Swachh Bharath Mission, a city with a population of 500,000, needs to have one toilet per 100 men and two per 100 women. In this regard, Bengaluru is short of 1,100 public toilets. Also, as per the guidelines Bengaluru requires one toilet complex per 7 kilometres. But a recent survey by a civic nonprofit organisation, Janaagraha revealed that, at the city level, there is only one toilet complex per 24 kilometres. According to the survey, of the 473 public toilets, 150 are constructed by the BBMP and 75 are privately run. And on the remaining 246 toilets, there is no clear information. The survey also scored BBMP toilets 5.9 on a scale of 10, on parameters such as cleanliness, water supply, electricity and working flushes.

Geotagging of toilets

In September, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUA) collaborated with Google to geotag public toilets in all urban local bodies across the country. The objective of this was to make public toilets easily locatable and accessible to the public. “There are roughly 730 public toilets in the city. We have geotagged 85% of them, including toilets in petrol bunks, malls, bus and railways stations”, said Vishwanath. However, BBMP has not created much awareness about this initiative, and many toilets that are geotagged don’t exist or are closed.

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