Three in 10 houses don’t even have a water tap inside their premises, according to an important first-of-its-kind Mumbai Climate Action Plan assessment report
A public toilet at Dadar West. File pic
As the BMC works on an ambitious blueprint to reduce Mumbai’s carbon footprint and make it a climate-resilient city, an analysis under the Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP) has shown that only 58 per cent of the population has access to toilets at home. In the first of its three-part series, mid-day throws light on how the heavy dependence on community toilets is a huge hurdle in Mumbai’s fight against climate change.
Most of the homes with an area of 100 square feet or less do not have sanitation and water supply, either because applications for individual toilets and water taps are pending approval or it structures sit on encroached land, found the study. This contrasts with Guardian minister of Mumbai Suburbs Aaditya Thackeray’s claim on Tuesday that there will be drinking water for all from May 1. As of now, 29 per cent or one in three households do not have water taps.
“There are many areas, where there is no suitable space for constructing toilet blocks. Hence work in those areas has come to a standstill. One toilet, one home cannot be implemented in all areas due to space constraints, smaller homes,” said a BMC official. Apart from posing serious health hazards, poor sanitation can pollute surface water, and groundwater and increase air pollution, said the MCAP study. “We are making improvements by each day and the number in the report is dynamic. Over 79 per cent have a tap on their premises unlike a few years ago. We are resolving all hurdles and this will improve too,” said the civic official.
The MCAP report stresses its finding that 41.7 per cent of Mumbai’s population still depend on community toilets that expose people to health risks and safety issues, especially for women, children and persons with special needs. A few years ago, a WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme had termed the community toilets an “unimproved” sanitation source.
‘Commitment is key’
In September 2015, the BMC had announced a one-home-one-toilet policy, but it is yet to put in place an implementation plan. To implement the one-home-one-toilet policy, commitment and will are needed from authorities and planning agencies, said Seema Redkar, a former officer on special duty in BMC’s Solid Waste Management Department, who has worked extensively on toilets and sanitation in the city.
“There is simply not enough space in this city to build toilets in every home. Such a scheme will not work unless there is 100 per cent commitment from authorities. However, it is not impossible. We have data on vulnerable wards in hand, so work in these wards can begin on priority,” she said.
Redkar said there are social challenges as well. “Acceptance is needed from citizens. Many communities do not want toilets inside their homes as it is culturally and religiously not acceptable to them, many believe in vastu and do not have suitable places in a suitable direction. The final hurdle is the laying of a proper sewerage network. Unless we have sewerage lines covering the entire city, this problem will not be resolved as sewage will be diverted into drains.”
‘Too many agencies’
The sanitation needs of the city’s slums are essentially met by community toilets, most of them built by MHADA, BMC, collectors and under MLA and MP funds. “Multiplicity of construction agencies is one of the major factors here, there is no uniformity. Besides, the major problem is that a city like Mumbai which is managed by countries richest municipal corporation does not have its own city sanitation plan. Some of the smaller civic bodies like Vasai-Virar, Wai and even Nashik are amongst those which have a city sanitation plan in place. There are so many toilets that are not connected to the sewerage network. I wish to ask the BMC what kind of people participation was there while compiling this Mumbai climate action plan report?” said Supriya Jan, activist of CORO-Right to Pee Campaign.
Shahnawaz Shaikh, corporator from Cheeta Camp in Trombay, one of the city’s most vulnerable areas, said, “My ward constituency comprises underdeveloped and encroached land. However, a lot of development has taken place in the last few years. Almost 50 per cent of the population has individual toilets in their homes, however, the majority of these are not connected to sewage lines and are diverted to drains. People build these toilets and even take water lines illegally. BMC cannot be blamed alone, people too are irresponsible.”
Ravi Raja, Congress corporator from Sion, said the BMC’s plans are only on paper. “The minister’s initiative is good, however, what is happening on the ground? There is no proper sewerage network, STPs. How will they allow individual toilets? Where will the sewage from these toilets be diverted to—drains or rivers? Unless we resolve these issues, the climate action plan is of no use.”
‘We’ve one common tap’
Kishor Katariya, a resident of Rawal Pada in Dahisar East, said, “There is a common water tap for the entire chawl, so we have to queue up based on turns. Sometimes if I have to rush to work, I miss my turn. Also during monsoon, it becomes very unhygienic.” Ananta Swami, who lives at Malad’s Appa Pada slum, said, “We have smaller homes, where toilets cannot be built. But I would suggest that the government build more toilet blocks. It gets crowded every morning. Plus, during Covid when we were asked to follow physical distancing, using the common toilet was very scary.”
Public toilets during Covid
At the peak of Covid, public toilets helped the virus spread. In Dharavi (G-North ward), a massive slum sprawl, the challenge was to keep the toilets sanitised all the time. Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner of the ward, said, “If you look at Mumbai’s demography, it is practically very difficult to provide individual toilets as sewage lines are not available at many places. In 2014, Mumbai had over 1 lakh toilet seats. The idea to resolve this issue is to increase the number of community toilets, and expedite redevelopment so more and more households could get individual toilets and the long term solution is to complete work on building STPs and sewage networks.”
‘Focus on resilience’
Lubaina Rangwala, the program head of the urban-development-and-resilience team of World Resources Institute (WRI) India, said, “The action plan aims to increase resilience by reducing water-sanitation inequity and implementing nature-based solutions for water conservation and flood risk management, while the urban flooding and water resource management theme aims to increase resilience by lowering heat risk and increasing the city’s resilience to flooding events.” The MCAP, prepared by BMC in collaboration with the WRI, focuses on six key areas—energy efficiency, air quality and sustainable mobility, sustainable waste management, urban greening and biodiversity, urban flooding, and water resource management.
“We have set sectoral priority actions and plan for all the issues along with deadlines for the same to be followed by the responsible departments/agencies. MCAP points out remedial measures at the identified vulnerable places, at the same time suggests various conservation measures at formal housing setups. The fact that MCAP has drawn a road map that acknowledges the gaps that exist. This is a 30-year plan and will not be in motion immediately,” added Rangwala.
Targets under MCAP by 2030
>> To provide clean, safe and accessible toilets to all
>> To ensure that up to 50% of the city’s water demand is met through localised water conservation and efficient use initiatives
>> To provide access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
It’s a long way
Households with latrines within premises
Overall Mumbai: 58.3%
Low-rank ward: M/E 35.8%
Top-rank ward: C 93.4%
Households with tap water within premises
Overall Mumbai: 79.2%
Low-rank ward: M/E 53.6%
Top-rank ward: C 98.4%
Households with access to treated tap water
Overall Mumbai: 94.4%
Low-rank ward: M/E 82.8%
Top-rank: C & D 98.3%