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Swachh Bharat For All? Despite Community Toilets Built, Access Remains An Issue For Slum Dwellers In Delhi

Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) built approximately 19,000 community toilets throughout Delhi in the past four years, and yet most of the people living in slums visited by NDTV’s Banega Swasth India team, choose to defecate in the open, here’s a ground report

From lack of space to build household toilets to lack of regular water supply and connectivity to sewage network, slums posed many problems to the toilet construction spree under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

New Delhi: “Instead of walking for 15 minutes and then waiting in the queue for another 10 minutes to be able to access a toilet, I prefer to relieve myself in a plastic bag and throw it on the road,” a 22 year-old girl who works as a domestic helper near her house in East Delhi’s Geeta Nagar slum tells NDTV.

“We surround each other in a circle to cover and urinate one by one inside the circle,” says another 30-year old woman residing in South Delhi’s Sri Niwaspuri.

“At night, the locality is more or less dark, and we know the deserted spots where women living here usually urinate,” said a 17-year-old girl who lives East Delhi’s New Ashok Nagar slum.

Reasons may vary but these responses from women living in various slums throughout Delhi point to the serious challenge that is surfacing after over five years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan deadline of making India 100 per cent open defecation free (ODF). But now that the deadline has come and gone and these toilets built, the next more challenging phase dawns for the Abhiyan – how to get people to use the toilets built and sustain the practice of using toilets.

Also Read: On Ground Reports: Thousands Of Toilets Built Since 2014 Yet Access To Toilets Remains An Issue In The National Capital

It has been a long and arduous road for urban areas to go ODF and one of the major hurdles has been extending sanitation coverage to slum areas. From lack of space to build household toilets to lack of regular water supply and connectivity to sewage network, slums posed many problems to the toilet construction spree under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Over the years, population residing in slums has swelled with the overall growth in India’s population. Census of India defines the term “slum” as an area resided in, yet unsuited for human habitation. These places are deemed unfit, a hazard to human health and safety due to lack of space, ventilation, cleanliness, sanitation among other factors.

According to the 2011 census, out of the 22 million residents of New Delhi, almost 10 per cent, more than 2 million people reside in slums. Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) is responsible for constructing and providing sanitation facilities to the slum dwellers with community toilets. Bipin Rai, Member Expert from DUSIB tells NDTV that DUSIB has successfully constructed about 19,000 community toilets in Urban Delhi till date, and another 1000 will be constructed before, October 2, 2019. Mr Rai said,

We have acquired all the necessary permissions, funds and we have identified more spots and slums in Delhi where there’s a need for community toilets. This will be done within this year.

Also Read:Before And After Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Has India Finally Managed To Provide Sanitation For All In This Decade

DUSIB has also ensured geo-tagging of the community toilets on Google Maps. But in slum areas there are other concerns too when it comes to access to toilets. A report by WaterAid, an NGO working in the field of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), titled ‘Nowhere to go’ states,

The human right to sanitation requires services to be available, safe, acceptable, accessible and affordable. However, in slums, the facilities that do exist often fail to meet some or all of these criteria. For example, toilets can be poorly located, badly lit and lacking doors or locks, threatening women’s safety by exposing them to the risk of rape, attack and harassment.

NDTV visited three slums in various parts of Delhi to get a better understanding of the issues faced by the citizens from slums in accessing toilets.The three slums we visited are – Geeta colony and New Ashok Nagar in East Delhi and Sri Niwaspuri in South Delhi.

Out of the three slums, only two have access to community toilets while the slum area near New Ashok Nagar sees open defecation and urination, as confirmed by the residents.

Toilets, Too Far Apart

One of the major issues faced by the residents living in the slums is the substantial distance of the toilets from most houses, it is an issue as residents may need to use toilet during any time of the day. While men take care of their ‘nature’s call’ by openly urinating anywhere, and go to the toilets for defecation purposes. Women, on the other hand, have problems in accessing the facilities for either purposes.

Unlike the men living here, we can’t relive ourselves as and when we want to, it’s not that easy, said 36-year-old Devika, resident of Geeta Colony for about two decades now.

When it rains or when it is extremely cold, when there is no electricity due to the frequent power cuts in our locality, we have to find other options as the toilets are at least a ten-minute walk

Geeta Colony has three community toilets, mapped on google maps. As per the screenshot below of the geo-tag, all three toilets are located at distant points of the slum, making it difficult for them access according to their convenience.

The three toilets built under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in Geeta Colony’s Shamshan Ghat Pushta SLUM (Encircled)

The three toilets built under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in Geeta Colony’s Shamshan Ghat Pushta SLUM (Encircled)

Even in Sri Niwaspuri, the toilets are located outside the main slum where people reside. One has to cross the entire slum and go towards the main road, in order to access DUSIB’s community toilet or even the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s public toilet as both are situated right opposite to each other.

The toilets complexes situated in Shriniwaspuri, (right) community toilet constructed by DUSIB and (left) public toilet provided by South Delhi Municipal Corporation

The toilets complexes situated in Shriniwaspuri, (right) community toilet constructed by DUSIB and (left) public toilet provided by South Delhi Municipal Corporation

A 28-year-old mother of two toddlers from the slum tells NDTV,

When I have to use the toilet, I can still consider walking till the community toilet and relieving myself as per my schedule but when it comes to my kids, they’re so young and have no definite schedule, it’s not easy for me to take them till the washroom every time. I also have to go to work as a domestic worker, clean my house, cook for my husband and kids, amidst all these responsibilities, I’m left with no choice but to make them sit right in front of our house, on the road when they need to.

DUSIB’s Bipin Rai tells NDTV that the biggest issue in constructing toilets in slums is the availability of land since the slums are not planned constructions or properly designed. He says due to the nature of the outlay of these localities, there are no designated areas for toilets and they have to find the areas where constructing toilets are feasible, hence there are only a few toilet complexes in each slum.

Also Read:Deprived Of Toilets For The Longest Time, Residents Of Ludhiana In Punjab Witness A Sanitation Revolution

Furthermore, due to the lack of planning, sewage connection for solid waste management is another issue faced by the authorities. Mr. Rai said,

We can only construct toilets where there is a proper land as well sewage facility available, for the rest of the areas where sewage is an issue; we install the mobile toilets as a temporary measure.

Too Many People Per Toilet

Another common issue faced by all three slums is the over usage. A resident from Geeta Colony tells NDTV,

Every day, in the morning as well as in the evening, we have to stand in a long queue for as long as half an hour to use the toilets. Some of us work as domestic helpers or other duties with fixed timings; it gets difficult for us to manage our routine.

Out of the three community toilet complexes in Geeta Nagar, each complex has about 20 seats, considering the heavy population of the slum, which is said to be more than 50,000, too many users per seat is a major barrier for the users.

One of the three community toilet complexes situated in Geeta Colony

One of the three community toilet complexes situated in Geeta Colony

Mr. Rai acknowledged the issue of over usage of the toilets and attributed it again to the lack of adequate space to build more toilets. Mr. Rai further informed NDTV that they are considering installing additional mobile toilets but the decision has not been finalised yet as the plan is under review.

While, the toilets visited by us were found to be in a good state, the credit for this goes to the people living here and using this toilet. A lady who was cleaning the toilet when we visited tells us,

We have divided responsibilities of ensure a clean toilet among ourselves. Of course, there are helpers and caretakers who come twice in a day to clean it; we have made our own system to ensure its cleanliness as an unhygienic toilet will only affect us. Our rule is to ensure we flush after using the toilet, and interrupt anyone we see who is not following this rule. Also we choose a leader among ourselves on a weekly basis, who ensures the toilets are spick and span for everyone to use.

The credit for the clean community toilets goes to the people living here and using these

The credit for the clean community toilets goes to the people living here and using these

Where Are The 24/7 Toilets?

Residents from New Ashok Nagar, where there is no provision for a community toilet despite the five years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, usually depend upon the nearest public toilet – located opposite the New Ashok Nagar Metro Station – a minimum fifteen minute walk from the settlements and has only urinals and no bathing space. However, the residents pointed out that the public toilets get shut by 9:30 /10 pm a 44-year-old woman resident tells NDTV,

We have a public toilet nearby, but that is still at least ten-fifteen minute walk away and has only urinals, no place to bathe. We can go use these if we’re nearby but it’s not convenient for us to walk that far during extreme weather conditions. Apart from that it’s not even open at all times as it shuts by 9:30 – 10 pm.

The residents then showed us the temporary toilet they built for themselves, the small door is the bathing area and an Indian-style pot right outside – both of which have no sewage connection.

The small toilet built by the slum dwellers inside their slum temporarily; there’s no sewage connection for these

The small toilet built by the slum dwellers inside their slum temporarily; there’s no sewage connection for these

When it comes to the community toilets, these are supposed to be open all night but many dwellers from Geeta Colony as well as Sri Niwaspuri informed NDTV that these are never open beyond 10 pm. A 28 year-old from Geeta Colony points out,

These toilets are also supposed to be open for 24 hours but they get shut by 10 pm, post which what other option do we have other than urinating and defecating on the streets?

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Mr Rai tells NDTV that he is aware of the community toilets getting shut at night even when these are supposed to be operational for 24 hours, he said,

We would get calls, that the men are drinking inside the toilet premises and that intoxicated men had physical altercations inside the toilet premises. We have to understand that the population in these areas is not the most literate set These sorts of issues are inevitable unless Delhi police or Local Bodies assign some sort of security measures or patrolling for the night, in these problematic areas. It’s not safe even for our caretakers to be in these toilets at night since drunken men have previously attacked our caretakers as well. In such situations, we are forced to shut the community toilets for at least 6 hours, generally from 11pm to 5 am. Otherwise, these toilets are built for the people, we want them to use these, why would we shut the toilets?

Resident’s Behavioral Barrier

Mr. Rai from DUSIB asserted that the reason behind lack of usage of community toilets or toilets in general among the slum dwellers, is also their habit of relieving themselves in the open and resisting the change.

I agree the distance is not the most ideal situation for them or be it the too many users for the toilets but let’s look at the issue with another perspective. The norm under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is to have accessible toilets within 500 metres. To defecate in the open, be it in a village or in Delhi or on railway tracks, they do have to walk for some time to find a suitable, isolated area to relieve themselves, so why not walk towards a hygienic option.

Rajesh, 30, resident of Sri niwaspuri agrees with Mr. Rai and also stressed that the situation has changed a lot in the last four years.

Rajesh explained how in his slum, few people have arranged a small area in their house with curtains to bathe but in order to relieve themselves, they have to use the government provided community and public toilets. He further says that he only uses toilets and does not defecate or urinate in the open and that he tries to ensure everybody does the same.

It’s all about habits. I just do not like seeing people defecate or urinate in the open, which is why I make sure my kids, my wife, my parents, my siblings and even their kids, utilise the facility of toilets provided specifically for us. It is easy to blame the government but at the end of the day, they have constructed these toilets for us to use. You have to change your habit and upgrade yourself.

Mr. Rai claims that in order to change the attitude of the people towards using toilets, DUSIB has engaged various NGOs who visit the localities like the three slums mentioned above. Volunteers from these NGOs interact with the residents at least twice a week and educate them on the need to use toilets, says Mr. Rai.

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Responsibility And Awareness – The Only Way To Go Forward?

NDTV connected with asked Shalini Chaturvedi, Programme Coordinator at WaterAid India to find out her views on how to make such community toilets more accessible, well- maintained and ensure usage by people, the various issues listed above.

Access to toilets is one of the sanitation aspects that need urgent attention to help improve health and well – being of the urban poor

Ms. Chaturvedi explains,

For ensuring that community toilets are used regularly by most people in the community, the operations and maintenance of such facilities should be led by the communities themselves. Through our own work in slums, we have learnt that toilet complexes that are managed by community groups bring in higher sense of ownership and so there is motivation to maintain the infrastructure and take care of day-to-day operations. If a toilet complex is managed by the community, they also take initiatives to encourage other community members to use them. Larger community also feels comfortable to approach such community collective in case of any problems or issues, which differs if the toilet complex is managed by a third-party vendor.

She further noted that a lot of people living in these urban slums are simply not aware about why they should use the toilets constructed for them.

Innovation in awareness and communication plays a significant role while stakeholder participation is crucial. Special awareness drives and IEC drives (Information, Education and Communication) in addition to the volunteers from NGOs visiting these areas could aid in the aim of ending open defecation, she said. Additionally, policy makers should start considering the other challenges to sanitation and toilets access, like strategies that increase women’s safety and privacy, especially at night. This could be done by better lighting in and around the community or technological innovations or even police patrolling around these areas to help women feel safer when accessing public or community toilets, Ms. Chaturvedi concludes.

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