Of pee and potty

 In India, a land of 1.27 billion people, nearly 19% of urban households have no toilet, according to the 2011 census. In rural areas, this figure is as high as 70% and open defecation is common practice. "At a rough estimate, we require at least 100 million household toilets in the country to prevent defecation in the open," says Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh, the affordable sanitation movement in India.

But this is a huge number. Besides, we need to have at least 25% of that number to provide for need to answer the call of nature in public spaces like roadside, stations, market places etc. So we are looking at about 125 million toilet units. An estimate given in an article on the portal  puts the cost of a Sulabh flush compost type costs between Rs 1500 - 55000. Let's take 1500 as the base price of one toilet for the 125 million required. It translates to Rs 187.5 billion or Rs 18750 crores. Assume it takes one man-day per day to keep them clean, and we are looking at 25 million public toilets. Floor level minimum wages in India are Rs. 115 per day. That's about Rs 2.8 billion per day or Rs 1022 billion per annum - or Rs 1.02 lakh crores per annum. And we are not yet counting repair and maintenance. India's defence budget for 2014-15 is Rs 2.24 lakh crores, which represents about 12% of total govt. expenditure - about 2.5% of GDP. The proposed cost on toilet maintenance (minus repairs) is almost half of the interim Defense budget. Can we afford all those toilets? At least not at one go.

The second problem is of attitude. I remember, a few years back, Delhi's elite Khan Market (one of the most expensive commercial areas in the world) got 2 snazzy new public toilets. A newspaper carried a photo of a man urinating against the wall of the new toilet. When asked, the man simply replied - it costs 50 paise to drink a glass of water from the street vendor so why should it cost Rs 1 to take piss? Unbeatable logic!

In India, small holy shrines of all religions come up almost spontaneously. Most are funded by locals through voluntary constributions. These small temples, crosses and mazaars are considered essential. Why can't we come together similarly and overcome the problem of generating resources for at least a few toilets locally? Is it because for us toilets are lower in priority than shrines? If (for whatever reason) local authorities are not providing enough toilets are we fine with peeing or crapping in the open?

And why do we treat public toilets so shabbily? Just look at the way we use train loos - mess all over, wrappers and garbage in washbasins and on the floor. Just because it's someone else's responsibility to clean them? Hell - we have to keep the toilet mugs chained to the taps. Can't we at least keep the limited public toilets as clean as possible by taking extra care?

If government doesn't wipe our bum, would we remain soiled? It's a thorn in my side.

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