It’s a cold morning in Pune. She quickens her pace looking around for a suitable refuge, knowing all too well that there isn’t any. She regrets not going to the toilet before she left the house and now her only option is to find one at her destination.
Ill-maintained public toilets are a menace, and more so for women. Even in urgent situations, many prefer to refrain from entering the stinking, filthy spaces which promise nothing but overflowing lavatories.
However, Ulka Sadalkar and Rajeev Kher, who are entrepreneurs in the sanitation sector, are changing this one public toilet at a time.
And unlike the usual four-walled public toilets, they are using scrapped public buses as sanitation centres!
“We read about this concept of using old buses as restrooms for homeless people. We wanted to replicate the idea in Pune for women. The city is densely populated. There isn’t space to construct toilets. Buses wouldn’t need much space and could be refurbished. Also, clean public toilets are integral to the Swachh Bharat movement and for Pune’s Smart City initiative,” says Sadalkar to the Civil Society Online.
Speaking to The Better India, Ulka says, “In a brainstorming session with the Pune Municipal Corporation in 2016, we decided to recycle the old, scrapped buses into toilets for women.” She adds that “The lack of public toilets for women is not alien to us. Women, especially, who menstruate once a month may face an emergency any time, and urgently need a toilet.
So we decided to install these sanitation centres in some of the busy areas in Pune where public toilets are scarce.”
Ulka and Rajeev’s company, Saraplast, provides mobile toilets for public events and they believe that “Ti” which translates to “she or her” in Marathi, is just one step ahead in utilising their expertise for the betterment of society. Ti also stands for “Toilet Integration.”
These are not just any toilets. Equipped with all the necessities, these “Toilets for her” are the perfect refuge you would want in case nature calls you when you’re on the road.
“Each bus has western toilets, Indian toilets, washbasins, a diaper changing place and sanitary napkins for sale. It is powered by solar energy. We want to ensure that the women who come here do not have to face any problems and since the launch, in 2016, we haven’t received any complaints or poor feedback. We have installed 11 such health centres—we call them those, so it takes the stigma away from public toilets—in the busy parts of Pune where the footfall is high, but there are no restrooms for the women to use. We are targeting the lower income class because those are the women who need these toilets the most,” Ulka tells TBI.
But that doesn’t mean that the quality is compromised in any way. In fact, as Ulka mentioned, one toilet receives an average of 150 ladies per day!
“On some days, the number rises up to 300. A couple of toilets that are located in quiet areas receive a lesser footfall, but even then, a good number of women use ‘Ti,’” she says.
TV screens with videos about female hygiene are installed in the buses that have been designed in such a way that you are led from the toilets to wash basins (to remind you to wash your hands).
“Women aren’t used to finding such restrooms. There is this wow factor. Their reaction is, ‘well, so the government finally cares for us!'” explains Usha to CSO.
The numbers speak for themselves. Hundreds, if not a thousand women use the washrooms every day, showing how urgently Pune needs hygienic, clean public toilets.
A female attendant, who greets you with a polite smile and a technician to regularly check that the solar panels and toilets are functioning fine are employed with ‘ti.’
Although the buses can be moved, Rajeev and Ulka don’t plan on making them into mobile toilets for the simple reason that women should know where they can find the toilet when they need it. A mobile toilet lacks the dependability that comes with these stationary washrooms.
Well-lit and equipped with all the necessities, users are charged only Rs 5 for the services. “When we started out, we did not charge anything. But gradually, we realised that if this model has to be sustainable, we needed to charge some amount. Even now, we are actually looking for financial alternatives that will make the toilets sustainable without having to charge the users. But that is work in progress,” explains Ulka.
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The duo is also planning to expand these health centres and set up juice stalls, and WiFi spots etc., so that these areas become a sort of recreation space for people from the lower income groups.
Ulka and Rajeev’s innovation is undoubtedly the perfect solution for Pune. The well-lit, well-maintained and fully-equipped toilets promise to go beyond your typical idea of public toilets and help you answer the call of nature safely and without compromising on hygiene.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)