Neena runs a copper utensils stall in Fancy Bazaar, a popular tourist market place in Guwahati, Assam bustling with local and traditional products like Assamese saris, bamboo pickles, tribal jewellery, souvenir shops, jaapi (a round bamboo cap) and gamcha (thin towel).
Having left her native town of Sualkuchi on the outskirts of Guwahati a decade ago in search of a better livelihood, Neena makes sure that there is someone manning the shop at all times, especially when she has to use the restroom for which she walks for nearly one kilometre.
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In the largest city of Assam that covers an area of 328 square kilometres, this lack of access to basic necessities is not restricted to the Bazaar as there are only 11 public toilets and 33 bio toilets for a population of 9.57 lakhs!
As per the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), lack of space is the fundamental issue that Guwahati is facing.
Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, there are enough funds allocated to construct individual household and public toilets but due to lack of space we have not been able to fulfill the Open Defecation Free (ODF) status, GMC Municipal Commissioner Debeshwar Malakar tells The Better India.
To provide enough sanitation provisions to the residents and tourists, the municipal corporation has now directed hotel and restaurant owners to allow women and children to use toilets in their premises for free.
“The decision of opening toilets in restaurants and hotels was taken in a conference of Governors and Lieutenant Governors at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on 5 June. Post the meeting, we have inserted the clause in trade license format of GMC,” he adds.
The corporation is presently identifying areas in the city to increase the number of public toilets and the construction of 12 such toilets has begun. Alongside this, GMC is also building 3,000 individual household latrines in the city.
For now, extending basic sanitation through hotels and restaurants is certainly an effective way to curb public urination and and help prevent the health implications that women may develop when forced to control their bladder.
Women, especially, often control their bladder for hours together and this has severe health implications. The guideline will hopefully resolve that and reduce cases of open defecation, says Malakar.
As for Neena, there is a restaurant right opposite her stall. She now has to walk a few steps every time she needs to use the restroom.
Though there is no punishment in place to ensure that the guideline is not violated, the GMC will soon come out with a penalty. For now, the GMC is visiting all the restaurants and hotels in the city and informing them about allowing the public to access the restroom without the need to order food.
Other steps taken by the corporation to maintain cleanliness in the city include introduction of six flying squads to penalise people for littering and spitting in public areas. As for managing the daily waste generated in the city, GMC installed a composting plant in 2010 that converts 50 tonnes of wet waste into five tonnes of compost daily.
Opening up the toilets in restaurants and hotels does seem like a welcome move. However, whether or not the hotel staff cooperates with the GMC and implements the order is something that all of us will have to wait for.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)