In New Delhi, the humble public toilet goes by any number of names: wall, footpath, tree, abandoned car, occupied car.
Now, officials in the capital hope a series of new “five-star” luxury public toilets will help tackle the problem of public urination.
Built in a sort of Mughal-fort-meets-council-toilet-block style, the facilities are being thrown up at a rapid pace at markets and other landmarks across the city before the Commonwealth Games begin in October.
Many point to the city’s lack of public toilets as a reason for the plague of public urination. Unable to pop into a hotel or café, the city’s rickshaw drivers and labourers have no other option than to pee al fresco. While plausible enough, the theory doesn’t take into account the fact that women seem to make it through the day without needing to use the footpath for anything other than its intended purpose.
“It’s not about lack of education,” says Delhi author Mayank Austen Soofi, who has four books on the capital coming out next month.
“I have seen rich men getting out of their big cars and peeing in full public view. One day India may still become a First World nation, but we’ll still pee where we want to,” he adds.
In January this year an Australian engineer was charged with attempted murder after taking matters into his own hands and shooting a local with an air rifle for urinating in public. Last year a man was shot dead by a security guard in Delhi during an argument over public urination.
Boasting shoe-shine machines and air conditioning, Delhi’s new public facilities are being billed as more than mere pissoirs. Despite the luxury accoutrements and a price tag of about INR10,000,000 (€168,000) apiece, however, patrons will still only be charged between INR1-INR2 per visit.
The plan is to pay for their upkeep by renting out space on the second floor to cafés and other retailers, who will then be responsible for maintaining the toilets. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi initially planned to put more than 200 up around the city in time for the Commonwealth Games, but legal action – in India, there is always legal action – stalled building work. Now the plan is to have 50 in place before the Games.
Will 50 public toilets be enough?
“It is laughable,” says Austen Soofi. “Just like every construction/renovation work that is being done in the name of the Commonwealth Games, I fear this project is also to fill up the coffers of engineers, politicians and contractors.”