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Planting times

Elite Clubs of India
Some basic facts

By Aparna Datta

On a trip to Dakshina Kannada, I decided to go by bus. It was great to see that dish antennae, STD/ISD and cellular phones had penetrated deep into interior areas.

But try finding a decent loo at a bus stand! Bus drivers have their own regular halts – you can get a reasonable vegetarian meal or snacks; but toilets facilities are, at best, primitive.

The highway is a great leveler – whether traveling by bus or an air-conditioned Merc, it’s still the same amenities – or lack of them – that road warriors have to cope with.

As a child, I remember going on many car journeys with my family. When the call of nature struck, the done thing was to head for the nearest bush. I guess it’s okay for men or children, but what’s a grown woman to do? Besides, with the pressure of population, the bushes have mostly disappeared, and you can’t quite ‘go round the corner’ because you’re likely to bump into someone else!

The low priority accorded to sanitation with the framework of public administration in India is simply appalling. The general apathy and stoic acceptance is even worse. To my mind what divides us as a society is not income or religion but simply this: you’re either born into a household with toilet facilities, or you’re not! It’s mind-boggling to think of all the railway tracks, river-sides and vacant plots which double up as vast public latrines, so I shall desist. And stick to the theme of rest-rooms for travelers.

Most state governments have been largely negligent in this area. If, in 50 years of independent India this has not been a state priority, it’s logical to assume that the Government cannot be expected to improve upon this aspect of social infrastructure in the future.

This is the age of marketing and sponsorship, so perhaps privatization is the real answer. Branded, pay-for-use toilets? Not as far-fetched as it may seem. Any entrepreneur who can patent a well-designed concept is sure to succeed: apart from income generated by customers, advertising can subsidise costs. Hygienic rest-rooms as extensions to dhabas or small hotels along highways are long overdue; petrol bunks are being upgraded – why not loos as added attractions?

As we enter the 21st century we can feel good about our achievements in the Space programme and Information Technology. Yet, measuring progress in technological terms can’t hide the inescapable fact that India will enter the new millennium with the largest pool of illiterates on the planet and the least access to sanitary toilets.

That’s medieval….

© Aparna Datta, 1998

Published in Saturday Times / The Times of India, Bangalore, March 14, 1998



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