CHENNAI, Feb 8: Residents of Urur Olcott Kuppam, located on the periphery of the affluent neighborhood of Besant Nagar, in Chennai do not use the public toilet as it is built near Selvavinayagar Temple and because of the lack of proper water supply.
The area is home to a fishing community. “Our families have been living here and have been involved in the fishing business for seven generations” says Monika Anand, a 52-year-old fisherwoman.
The kuppam (fishing hamlet) houses 600 people, including fishermen, businessmen and migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh, Maharshtra and Odisha.
The locals of this area did not receive any money to build private toilets and some have created broken-down roofless structures that are used for bathing, washing and laundry. These make-shift structures cost them around Rs. 5000, which they spent from their own pockets.
The community toilet, which was built 20 years ago, consists of 10 cubicles, five for women and five for men. It is maintained by Minalkodi (52), who has been living here for 15 years, and is paid no salary. She earns through the pay-and-use facility, which amounts to Rs.2 per use.
She explains that the toilet is not used by many people as it remains dirty and water comes only for an hour every day.
For daily-wage labourers and fisherfolk, a charge for a basic necessity as this is high. Rupak Ranjan Raut, a 23-year-old migrant worker from Odisha, who works as a security guard at the National Stock Exchange office in Kotturpuram said,“Money is spent, but what can we do when everyone has to pay.”
Dilip Raut (25), another migrant worker from Odisha, states that migrants in the area use the facility more often the than locals.This is because they have settled here recently, and do not have access to toilets in their homes like some local dwellers do.
Since the drainage system became fucntional only as recently as last month, those few who have toilets in their houses, have been unable to use them. Moreover, there is no water to clean and maintain the toilets and thus, it stinks of garbage piled up nearby and has become home to insects.
“The water motor is not working and there is a water problem,” Minalkodi explains. The tank used to store water is also jammed, she adds.
Most of them, then, defecate out in the open which becomes a health hazard. The area by the beach is littered with garbage and is cleaned only once in three days.
Another reason why toilets are not in use is that it is adjacent to a temple. “I can’t join my hands in prayer on one side, and go on and relieve myself at the other,” says Sushila (70), who sells dried fish in the market.
“The toilet built by the corporation is barely used by any of us. It lacks maintenance and is cleaned only once in 60 days. With the temple next to the toilet, it violates our religious beliefs to use the toilet. Hence, it lies abandoned. The area gets water supply through the tankers and when there is excessive water, the tank in the public bathroom is flooded. Otherwise, it lies empty, ” says K Saravanan, a fisherman.
Satyarupa Shekhar, Head of the Government Outreach and Advisory team at the Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), says, “If we look at it from the planning perspective, we need to question what the local government did before they built the toilet. If they are building a toilet near a temple, they should think of the cultural restrictions. The problem is, toilets are built where land is readily available and the sanitation need of the community is ignored.”
Looking at the case of UrurOlcottKuppam, she explains, “There are no private toilets or a sewer line. The rainwater carries feces and dirt to the river, where the water is untreated. The government needs to make decisions based on the right information. They have addressed the sanitation need, but not built support infrastructure for the same like water supply, drainage system and electricity.”
The consequences of such neglect include personal and public hygiene problems. It proves to be unsafe for women to openly defecate at night. “The plans need to be culturally contextualized and made after due consultation from the local residents,” she added.