Maintenance, far from easy

Chennai may not see installation of more e-toilets

A key problem with public toilets is sustainable maintenance. Though e-toilets gave the promise of addressing this crucial problem when they were introduced, activists say that the promise has proven to be false, at least for use in a wider number of places.

M. Elangovan, executive director of Gramalaya, a non-governmental organisation that works in the area of sanitation, said that the technology in e-toilets proved to be not easily useable for a large number of people, particularly from the low income neighbourhoods.

He said that Gramalaya’s experience showed that relying completely on technology without human intervention may not be an ideal solution with respect to public toilets in the Indian context, at least not in all the places. He stressed on the need for involving people to regularly monitor and maintain the toilets.

Govindaraj Murugan, convenor of Dhagam Foundation, which conducted an audit of public toilets in Chennai three years ago, concurred. He said that e-toilets did not prove to be any better than other toilets when it came to maintenance.

“It appeared as if any malfunctioning required more effort to fix when compared to other toilets,” he said. He added that no solutions to tackle the issues with public toilets would work unless a proper mechanism to ensure regular monitoring and maintenance was put in place.

R. Mahalakshmi, also associated with the foundation, said the audit showed that people in many places were not comfortable with using the e-toilets as they were not aware of how exactly they worked. She said the audit also showed that problems with toilets were fixed only when a complaint was raised and proactive maintenance was lacking in most places.

With Greater Chennai Corporation planning a project to revamp the public toilet infrastructure in the city, a senior official from the Corporation acknowledged that a fully technological solution like the e-toilets may not be the right solution. He, however, added that the Corporation was keen to use technology for the purpose of monitoring and maintenance.

While GCC may not opt for more e-toilets, the official said that the existing dysfunctional e-toilets would be fixed and put back to use. Highlighting that e-toilets in some of the places were being used properly, he said that the difference was that these places had proper maintenance. He said that the proposed project would focus more on implementing a supervisory structure and ensuring regular monitoring of several key indicators and proper maintenance.

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