Make Access to Public Toilets Free in Maharashtra

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WHile the government is running adds and advising everyone to wash hands regularly, there are hundreds of people who have to PAY to wash their hands or access a bathroom.

In Navi Mumbai, indivduals have to pay Rs 5 to access toilets or bathrooms during the COVID-19 crisis. The lockdown has taken away all source of income. 

COVID-19 has hit us and there is no definitive cure yet. As stated by UN-WHO, and later the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (GOI), preventive measures emphasise on washing hands and keeping oneself clean. However, for many people belonging to lower socio-economic groups, including people who live on the streets, this has always been a privilege. Their only way to access hygiene and sanitation facilities is through public toilets and that access comes at a cost for them, even if they don’t have the means to pay for it.

We at Prerana have been working on various issues around children’s rights for over three decades now. One of our teams, Sanmaan, works closely with children who have been rescued from begging. These children along with their families often live on the streets or in makeshift shelters. Through the experiences of our Sanmaan team, while working in communities in the Mumbai and adjoining districts of Navi Mumbai, we have learned that people pay a minimum of Rs 5 to access toilets or bathrooms. 

As one of the signatories to the UNCRC, we as a nation are obliged to ensure that every child is able to live in a healthy environment, and that includes free access to toilets. On the 17th of April, 23 days into the lockdown, in Mumbai the BMC announced that all public toilets could be used free of cost till the lockdown was lifted. However, our field experiences tell us that the same is not being implemented everywhere. These inequalities get amplified amid a pandemic when their income is negligible but the expenses remain the same. The communities that we work with are high-risk communities as they have very limited access to toilets, water, and sanitation facilities. 

This is a huge health risk for them in ordinary circumstances too, let alone amid a health crisis. Access to clean water and sanitation is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6). Women and children get affected the most as limited access to public toilets compromises their safety, menstrual health, and also make them vulnerable to harassment. It also raises concerns about child protection. 

We seek that toilets be made free of charge in Mumbai, and other districts of Maharashtra where their use is being charged in the current times, and the implementation of the same is actively monitored. Let us take this issue seriously to ensure that the marginalized do not have to suffer greater risk to COVID-19 due to a lack of access to public toilets. 

Please sign our petition asking the Minister of Public Health and Family Welfare, Maharashtra to make access to public toilets free of cost in the state, and ensure its implementation.