As Greater Chennai Corporation launches the next phase of opening public toilets, citizen groups weigh in with suggestions
With a recent study by Greater Chennai Corporation revealing that 289 of the 832 public toilets are not in working order, there should be an obvious interest in improving these facilities. In fact, there is.
“Recently, GCC sought feedback from NGOs on how to maintain these facilities, and we put forward our suggestion. We called for a ‘Chennai Toilet Maintenance Board’, a nodal agency to redress grievances related to public lavatories,” says Govind Rajan, convenor, Dhagam Foundation
A non-profit, Dhagam Foundation has conducted audits of washrooms in Chennai in 2018.
“The Board should take up audits of public conveniences periodically and have an efficient redressal mechanism. Currently, public complaint to 1913 or write to the GCC but it’s forwarded to various departments depending on the issue,” says Govind.
Under Swachh Bharat Mission, the city has to develop a public toilet for every 500 metres. Many of the existing toilets are either locked or damaged.
While there is certainly a need to increase the number of public toilets in Chennai, the first step should be to ensure existing facilities are better maintained and utilised, says AJ Hariharan, founder-secretary, Indian Community Welfare Organisation (ICWO) and calls for GCC to create awareness among the public on taking ownership of public toilets.
A few years ago, ICWO ran a campaign at Velankadu crematorium (that it was maintaining) offering small prizes to those who use the restrooms on the premises. The campaign, which ran for a year, was essential as the renovated washrooms in the crematorium were not being used. Pleas by the public address system fell deaf ears for visitors.
“The campaign was a success for two reasons, first we ensured the toilets were kept clean and the users themselves informed others in their group about the space and the gift they received, helping us achieve our objective,” says Hariharan.
Hyderabad-based firm Ixora Corporate Service is getting ready to launch five Loo Cafes, made of pre-fab materials, where the company will meet the cost of installing and maintaining these toilets under a public-private partnership. These no-pay toilets offer WiFi-enabled, disabled-friendly and a space to sell food and beverages.
How do they plan to check vandalism?
The company’s founder and CEO Abhishek Nath notes, “All Loo Cafes will have CCTV cameras outside the units to help identity miscreants. Besides, we will be building, managing and operating the facility,” says Abhishek.
Public can give their feedback to the call centre number displayed on the board. They can also talk to the staff overseeing the facility. “We are also launching an App that would make it easy for tech-savvy users to make a complaint,” says Abhishek.
Smart public toilets are coming up at T Nagar, opposite Woodlands; on Rajiv Gandhi Salai, opposite Taj Vivanta; Velachery, near Phoenix Mall; Besant Nagar beach stretch; and near Ripon Building.
Paid or free?
Complaints about public toilets charging a fee from users are common in Chennai and groups working in this area are divided over the issue.
While many non-profits feel a small fee must be levied, others feel no one must be denied access to such a facility for not paying up. Hariharan says, “Whatsoever be the budget that goes into building and maintaining these public washrooms, GCC is duty bound to invest in public health. An inclusive city begins with a free public toilet.”
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