GCC pilots 3 maintenance models for public toilets in Chennai

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Cleaning work under way at a toilet in Thiruvanmiyur.

Cleaning work under way at a toilet in Thiruvanmiyur.
| Photo Credit: M. KARUNAKARAN

Finding a usable public toilet in Chennai continues to be a challenge for many, especially women. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), which currently maintains public toilets in 943 locations, is planning to complete the construction of 366 more toilets by early next year. But, without quality maintenance and upkeep, mere expansion of capacity will not yield desired results, indicate research, and user experience.

To address these shortcomings, the GCC rolled out a pilot programme in July. The operation and maintenance of nine freshly renovated public and community toilets in the city were outsourced to three types of contractors – women self-help groups, private companies, and community-based entrepreneurs. The public’s response to these toilets, located in Zones 13 and 14, has been overwhelming. The caretakers claim the number of users per day has risen significantly. 

As part of the renovation, the GCC has fixed broken doors, taps, and pipes. The freshly painted toilets now have a digital feedback device for the public to leave feedback and CCTV surveillance. The women’s toilets are fitted with sanitary napkin vending machines. The toilets for persons with disabilities and senior citizens have standard assistance mechanisms. 

For their part, the contractors are ensuring the toilets are open 16-24 hours a day, and that a cleaner and supervisor are present for most of the hours. GCC is studying the pros and cons of these three contractors and their business models.   

“The idea is to rope in facility management providers to handle the maintenance of the toilets in order to provide world-class facilities — in that they are functional (at all times) and very clean,” says M.S. Prasanth, Deputy Commissioner (Works), GCC. 

The numbers have been encouraging. Between July and October, the average number of daily users at the Guindy bus terminus facility increased by 200 persons; at Thiruvanmiyur bus depot, it increased by 300. 

Santhosh Ragavan, team lead of Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) — the organisation that has been roped in by the GCC for the pilot programme, says that this exercise is a learning process. 

“What we are trying to do is find what improvements are needed with the existing system. We are not only studying all of this, but we are also running this ourselves; so, we will have a better understanding of what is needed to ensure sustenance,” he says.

While progress has been good, the scalability and sustainability of such models of upkeep are yet to be witnessed. “The State has the good intentions of providing these services free of cost to the people. That is challenging but an important way of approaching this,” he says. “But, sustenance is an important aspect. We need to pay workers involved on a par with other sectors and services.”  

Mr. Prasanth says GCC is exploring ways to generate revenue and optimise expenditure. “The model adopted for Zone 5 and 6 has been to promote ad space [on the walls and other parts of the premises]. We are looking at adding minor incentives to make the bids more competitive. That said, even in the pilot programme, the Corporation has to account for management expenses. With the management currently desegregated (with the involvement of many different departments), it is difficult to assess how much is being spent. Outsourcing maintenance will mean less expenditure. There the payment will be linked to service delivery, and it can be graded through independent assessment. At the end of the day, it’s not a self-sustaining enterprise, the government will have to spend some money,” he reasons. 

The project has allowed them to pick up and address several challenges such as the need for a better roof at one place to septic tank management in another. With such learning in hand, GCC plans to roll out the programme citywide. All in good time.

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