A few months back, when Union Minister Jairam Ramesh made an observation that in India we have more temples than toilets, there was a general unqualified uproar among the political class who demanded an apology even regarding a genuine concern, as always.
As a resident of a ‘so called’ well planned and affluent locality like HSR Layout, my observation is no different than the Union Minister. Construction workers waking up as early as 4 am to answer their calls of nature in an empty site nearby or dark spaces away from the view of early morning walkers is a regular ritual. The plight of women construction workers is indeed unimaginable. If one decides to ignore the woes of construction workers or hawkers around as temporary, think about the people who visit commercial areas of the layout. Recently, I was at a well known food joint on the 27th main. When an elderly lady walked in and requested the person behind the counter if she could use the toilet, the man nodded, very reluctantly.
Incidents like these are neither isolated nor unknown. Somewhere, the sense of building/planning for a basic facility like a public toilet is not a priority. Indeed, it shows complete lack of civic sensibilities from the authorities. While generously doling out CA sites to institutions even in areas that may beat any planning sense, the authorities have looked the other way when it comes to providing basic amenities to human beings, depriving them of dignity. What could be worse than visuals of construction people walking with water bottles early in the morning, a lady begging to use a toilet at a food joint, a man relieving himself against a compound wall? I wonder when the authorities will wake up to reality.
Urbanization is a reality. But the medieval mindset of class and gender bias has to change in our urban planning. India is a welfare state and in the midst of commercial focus, this reality seems to be lost somewhere. It is the primary responsibility of the authorities to provide basic facilities to everyone and make urban planning more inclusive. Otherwise, we will be left with more and more ‘toilets in public’ with no public toilets across localities.
For the authorities, it should be effortless to set up a few paid toilets and issue pre-paid passes to construction workers. Making it mandatory for the owner of the property under construction to pay and avail passes for all its construction workers is definitely practical to implement. Let us not forget the hard fact that one may or may not go to a temple but everyone has to use a toilet.
A modern day quote rightly says, “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”. It is about time the authorities acknowledge the mistakes of mindless planning/development and resolve the attendant problems rather than leave people to deal with their own plight.