KOCHI: Despite being parched, I have avoided drinking water due to the ‘fear’ of Nature’s call at public places in the city. It is a suffocating feeling. One that ruins the outing. I am, certainly, not the only Kochiite who has gone through this ordeal. Ask any woman around, and she would concur.
Dearth of clean public toilets has been a bane of the city for long. And among the existing ones, over half of them are either locked up or are poorly maintained. In fact, this was one of the reasons for Kochi slipping from fifth to 324th in the national Swachh Survekshan rankings. It is, indeed, a shame for a city that’s a commercial as well as tourism hub.
Ask authorities, especially the Kochi Corporation, and they stick to their favourite words from time immemorial — ‘we are planning’.Currently, Kochi Mayor M Anilkumar has sought a report on public toilets from the Town Planning Standing Committee. Based on the study, the mayor promises, a ‘Take a Break’ programme would be initiated soon in the city.
Meanwhile, TNIE takes a look at the condition of existing toilet facilities in the city and highlights the spots that need ‘Take a Break’ facilities.
‘Men use corners’
The recently renovated toilet facility at Marine Drive was opened to the public by the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) a couple of months ago. Current status: locked. “Hundreds of people visit Marine Drive every day,” notes social activist Ranjith Thampi. “Yet, there is no toilet facility in the area. Men urinate in ‘available corners’. What about women? The corporation has been talking of plans to set up more public toilets for long. Sadly, they remain mere promises.”
‘Locked’ in a tussle’
Notably, the toilet facility near the corporation’s zonal office in Vyttila has remained closed for several years. Reason: unavailability of workers to maintain the toilet. “There is a tussle going on between the councillors,” says a corporation official. “The area councillor wants the toilet facility to be opened to the public for free, while some oppose this idea, citing fund crunch for maintenance.”
In June, the mayor inaugurated a container toilet opposite the corporation office, near the Ernakulam Boat Jetty. However, the facility is defunct as it yet to receive water and electricity connections.
Sources say the connections are stuck in red tape and interdepartmental hassles. One of them says he is “tired of visiting offices of several departments” for making the facility functional.
“There are several organisations such as Rotary, Lions Club, and MNCs that are willing to spend their corporate social responsibility funds on such projects. However, this is how things end up,” laments S Gopakumar, president of the Better Kochi Response Group, which has been spearheading public toilet projects across Kochi.
He adds that a project to construct a public toilet facility in Fort Kochi is awaiting the district administration’s approval. “The project is funded by Cochin Smart City Mission Limited,” says Gopakumar. “Most of the toilet models proposed by us are differently-abled friendly. We are awaiting clearance.”
Construction, often involving lakhs of rupees, is not the headache. It is maintenance. “The public toilet facility set up at Jos Junction has been encroached by rag-pickers and the homeless,” points out Thampi. “I have seen people bathing there. The corporation must ensure the public facility is not misused. Yes, they, too, are humans. But authorities should come up with some other mechanism so that the public don’t get hassled.”
Thampi also highlights the toilet at Marine Drive. “Intoxicated students can be seen roaming around the toilets, and a lot of other anti-social activities also take place here,” he says. “If there is someone to monitor, maybe such public toilets won’t end up misused or locked up.”
Rare success model
The pay-and-use container toilet installed near Cochin Shipyard is well-maintained and a success model that could be replicated in other parts of the city. Funded by Cochin Shipyard under its CSR initiative, the facility was installed by the Better Kochi Response Group. “Most of the new toilets fail due to lack of maintenance,” says Gopakumar.
“We have a special arrangement with CREDAI, which maintains the pay-and-use facility. The user fee and advertising revenue cover most of the expenses. An advertisement area and a space for a vertical garden have been added to enhance the aesthetics of the space, which has LED lighting.”
Most people I spoke to at busy spots such as KSRTC Bus stand, Fort Kochi and Boat Jetty say they would “avoid” the public toilets available at these locations due to “unhygienic conditions”. A big relief, some say, are the well-maintained toilets at Metro stations.
“At some stations such as Aluva, Kaloor, M G Road, and Vyttila, the facility can be used by non-commuters as well. Such places are safe for women, too,” says Gayathri Kumar, a nutritionist.
It’s urgent: Spots where toilets are badly needed
- Marine Drive Walkway
- Queen’s Walkway
- Panampilly Nagar
- KSRTC Bus Stand
- Vytilla Hub
- Fort Kochi beach
- Puthuvypeen b each
- St Antony’s Church, Kaloor
- Subhash Park