Saturday, December 09, 2006
I had written about how scores of millions of Indians suffer indignity in silence, for lack of a toilet. The worst sufferers are poor women in the slums of urban India. I had tried to initiate a programme to install sanitary toilets in Howrah slums. But this could not move ahead because of entrenched vested interests in the Howrah Municipal Corporation; there was a profitable racket to pocket the govt’s insanitary toilet conversion subsidy without actually constructing a sanitary toilet.
A host of factors - tenure, permissions, space etc -prevent necessary toilets from being constructed in the slums. So I have long been interested in a Toilet Bus for poor women in slums. I wanted to start a project to develop, launch and manage a 'mobile toilet' facility.
I was seized by the idea of converting a decommissioned double-decker bus into a "Toilet Bus" to cater to poor women in slums like Priya Manna Basti in Howrah. Such a bus would be parked near the slum for a certain duration at particular times of the day. The refuse (which would accumulate in a safe storage tank in the vehicle) would then be disposed off at a dedicated land site, using a twin sanitary pit system. Once full, the pit would be closed and a new one used. When the second pit was full, the first one would be reopened. The refuse would be inert and could be removed and used as manure.
The toilet bus needn’t have its own engine and driver-cab. It could be hauled and conveyed, with the cab unit conveying, parking and picking up a number of such toilet buses.
Besides giving immediate relief to a good number of poor slum women, this would also serve to highlight the sanitation issue and create wider public awareness of this problem. It would also be possible to organise the beneficiary women in self-help groups through this initiative. And this would serve as a demonstration of a programme that could also be taken up by others, including the municipal corporation.
The venture would be a non-profit one, but it would also generate revenue from user charges towards meeting costs.
Just over two years ago, I contacted the relevant departments of the West Bengal govt for the necessary sanctions and assistance. I am yet to hear from them.
Meanwhile the dream lives on!