By Fakir Balaji
Bengaluru, Oct 3 (IANS) Fund crunch, space constraints and red-tape have delayed in making India’s tech hub open defecation-free (ODF), an official admitted.
“Bengaluru is not fully ODF. It’s about 80-85 per cent, as making it fully ODF is a work in progress because funds are delayed in paying contractors, difficult to find places to build public toilets and a lot of paperwork, as multiple agencies are involved in the Swachh Bharat Mission,” a senior civic official told IANS.
Ironically, the admission about Bengaluru yet to be ODF came when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared in Ahmedabad on Gandhi Jayanti day that India was ODF.
“Of the 198 civic wards across the city, 172 are ODF and works are underway in the remaining 26. While all houses we have built, the schools we run and community halls we maintain have toilets, covering 80 per cent of the city, we face opposition in constructing toilets in many residential and commercial areas because people do not want them nearby their houses or shops,” said the official.
As funding involves Central and State governments, implementation by non-government organisations, contractors, companies under CSR (corporate social responsibility) and certification by a third party, the ambitious mission faces uphill task due to many agencies involved in building and maintaining them as well.
“With the city ever growing and influx of people continuing, there is a shortage of toilets in many areas where the population density is higher. There is pressure on the existing facilities. There are no open or free sites in many localities to build new toilets. As water supply and drainage are must, finding a suitable location is a challenge,” Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) chief engineer S.L. Vishwanath told IANS.
Though the civic corporation has been building and maintaining public toilets over the last two decades in the city under the public-private partnership (PPP) with NGOs and social service organisations like Sulabh International, lack of supervision and maintenance led to many of them being misused or shut due to poor patronage.
“Currently, 440 public toilets are in use in our civic limits. Another 200 is required to ease pressure on them. But with the city expanding on all sides and more migrants settling on the outskirts in revenue sites and lands converted from agriculture or horticulture into residential or commercial, 100 per cent ODF is difficult, as they do not come under our jurisdiction,” asserted Vishwanath.
Similarly, of the 2,790 applications received for Individual Household Latrines (IHHL), about 1,800 have been completed and 800 are pending completion for want of clearances or approvals. The average cost of building a public toilet is Rs 15,000 excluding land cost.
Ensuring sanitation and hygiene around the public toilets being a challenge, many resident welfare associations oppose building them adjacent to parks, playgrounds, near schools, hospitals and even places of worship for sentiment.
“With so much opposition and space shortage due to lack of planning and failure to provide sites in residential or commercial layouts for toilets, how can the city become fully ODF unless we decongest and regulate the explosive growth not only of Bengaluru, but also other cities and towns across the state,” urban expert Srihari asked.
Assembly elections in April-May 2018 and Lok Sabha polls in April-May 2019 also held up funds for the civic corporation due to the model code of conduct. The political instability in the aftermath of a hung house and a 14-month previous JDS-Congress coalition government pre-occupied with survival games, the city has been grappling with its crumbling infrastructure, gridlock, pollution and garbage crisis.
To be declared ODF, the city has to get certified by the Mission through the Quality Control of India after completing 90 per cent of the approved applications for IHHL and an equal number of public toilets.
“For a bustling city of 11 million (1.1 crore) people, including a million floating population, there are about 1,000 toilets in public places, including markets, bus stations, railway stations, state-run hospitals and commercial complexes or malls.