You’ve seen those small telephone booth-like structures propped up in random corners of crowded city-pockets. They had materialised with promises, only to become forgotten monuments or dingy storehouses of bacteria due to the saddest reason that puts the city to shame: Disuse.
These are the public urinals that are scattered all around the city, which are doing more space-filling than relieving nature’s call. This effectively flushes a lot of money gone into setting these up, right into the drain. Few weeks ago, the corporation commissioned 350 more toilets by July in areas with rampant open-defecation and urination. But though they have zeroed in on Royapuram, Anna Nagar, Purasaiwakkam and Medavakkam localities for these ‘smart-toilets’, the bigger question remains if that will pull the numbers of wanton ‘urinators’ away from defiling public walls and streets, and get more metropolitan crowds to ever use these establishments. And public awareness pitches like the infamous Graffiti that asks you if you’re a dog (Naaya Nee?) with a picture of a dog taking a leak, although well-received are powerless until such a time the public loos are made bearable to use.
Today, there are more than 800 public toilets in the city of 65 lakh, but a majority of them remain unusable. In a micro-survey done by Express with residents in the city, it was found that ‘lack of privacy’ and ‘bad maintenance’ were the two most recurring reasons pointed out by Chennai-ites to not venture anywhere near these public loos.
“These toilets are set up in crowded places. And it’s uncomfortable to urinate in a public place, so I’ve never seen anyone using it,” opines Gayathri V, who passes by one everyday.
This rings true even in places like Valluvar Kottam, Besant Nagar beach and Koyembedu, where despite heavy footfalls, people express distaste. “I feel nauseous even walking past it. Waterless, bio or whatever, they are dirty and they stink,” says Shyam T, a regular football player at the beach.
What appears is that there is a need for not just better loos, but improving attitudes towards using them. And for that there might be a need for more stream-lined reforms and a regular supply of water and electricity that the city-dwellers complain are in short supply. “Education of toilet-usage, charging a nominal fee for toilets and making local residents stakeholders in maintaining public urinals” are what NGO Transparent Chennai states as key areas of work to bring down the rising stench.
With health and hygiene taking a backseat in the process, the newly commissioned batch of toilets, which also aims at setting up women-centric ones, would hopefully spell the end of unmet emergencies and build newer attitudes towards using public washrooms.