World Toilet Day, 2021 “Valuing Toilets”- Moving Towards Safely Managed Toilets for All

Bhubaneswar: The World Toilet Day, 2021 set in the backdrop of the pandemic and the growing threat of disaster caused by climate change, the call for “Valuing Toilets” is as much as about having basic access as having climate-resilient sanitation. While marking the day today, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) thought it befitting to salute all the social catalysts who have over the last few years made safe sanitation- infrastructure, accessibility, dignity and safety of all- a core issue stressing on sanitation value chain and leaving no one behind.

In the introductory address, Samir Ranjan Dash, State Lead, CFAR urged all stakeholders to use the World Toilet Day to renew and strengthen their commitment towards safe and inclusive sanitation. “From the beginning, our concern has been to empower community and groups with special needs-disabled, transgender, elderly, urban poor-to voice their concerns and be part of the solution and today, when we are observing the fourth World Toilet Day much has changed. With the virtual launch of the Saniwall in 12 wards we are entering into a new phase of collaboration between BMC and the urban poor community.”

In his opening address, Shri Suvendu Kumar Sahoo, Deputy Commissioner stated that Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) is planning to construct 67 new public/community toilets in 67 wards and urged the community to be part of the process of scaling up access to toilets. He went on to say that “We will be addressing all grievances big and small which come to us and also have five mobile toilets and will deploy them in areas where there are no facilities.”

Responding to the opening address by Mr. Sahoo, Mx Meera Parida, Founder, SAKHA, Member National Council for Transgender Persons, in her special address stated that “CFAR has made it possible for us to have a very good partnership with Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, so that we ensure that No One is Left Behind. We request Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation to make trans-friendly toilets in the state. Our signage campaign for trans-inclusive toilets should be scaled up and the signage of trans-women with women and trans-men with men be displayed across public/community toilets so that we secure recognition and dignity that we are entitled to.” She went on to add that after Andhra Pradesh, Odisha stands second in opportunities for transgender persons. The movement for securing transgender rights is only six-year-old as it started when the NALSA Judgment on Transgender Rights was declared by the Supreme Court of India,

While inaugurating the ‘Saniwall’ virtually in five Wards, Mr. Laxmikanta Jethi, Additional Commissioner, said that “CFAR and the community representatives have done a very remarkable job of helping us to set up the Saniwall as it will mirror all the problems and achievements so that we not only construct sanitation facilities but also address grievances and change behavior. On World Toilet Day we should take practical steps, implement our commitments and make a clear pathway and the city must lead in the providing safe sanitation to all,” he added,

In the spirit of inclusive sanitation, twelve SATO-manufactured toilet pans were conferred to persons with disabilities, elderly and transgender persons by Additional Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, BMC and Meera Parida, Member, National Council for Transgender Persons.
In her concluding address, Ms. Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director, CFAR, said that, “the time had come for BMC to recognize representatives of Single Window Forum and Community Management Committee as a Resource team that will collaborate with BMC and government in not only identifying communities without access to services and linking them to it but also in galvanizing the community to take ownership and its share of responsibility in changing behaviors and in safeguarding the services”.

On inclusive sanitation, Mr. Swagat Jhankar-Mallick, disability activist, CFAR asked as to when is it will be possible to ensure full-fledged access to sanitation for persons with disabilities, as he felt that much needed to be done on this issue.

Agreeing with this, Dr Sanyaashhi Behera, DSSO, SSEPD stated, “Many urban poor disabled persons do not have space so it is difficult to make toilets for them. Community toilets do not have options of wheelchair and ramps. It costs 25% more for making disable-friendly toilets. According the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, they have a legal right to disable-friendly toilet. But we do not have budget allocations for these special needs. Due to the pandemic disabled faced a great difficulty when accessing toilets so we demand that extra 25 percent is provided to those who have space to make toilet.”

Reflecting about the challenges faced by the elderly, Ms. Bharati Chakra, HelpAge India, said that, “along with accessible, affordable toilets, the elderly need emotional, empathy, care and support”.

Sharing their experience ten Single Window Forum members from nine wards pointed out their concerns. Ms Bharati Dakua, Single Window Forum, emphasized the need for “community involvement in household waste segregation and safe mechanized desludging on subsidized rates for informal settlements.” Ms Jyoshna Duta, Single Window Forum shared, “I am sitting at the BMC Grievance Cell not only to ensure safe desludging but also to ensure that sanitary workers so not face any risk when they render the service.”

Speaking about safely managed sanitation, Mr. Deepak Nag, E&Y, emphasized that, “BMC, CFAR, Single Window Forum and Community Management Committee have taken up the issue of safely managed sanitation and mechanized desludging very seriously and are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that affordable service is provided to the urban poor.” He went on to add that this is only city in the country which is making very decisive effort to reach out FSM services to the urban poor.

While dwelling on transgender right to secure safe sanitation Ms. Asisha Behera and Ms. Meghna Sahoo lamented that despite making some progress on issues like livelihood, same cannot be said for sanitation. Even a simple initiative like adding transgender signage in women’s and men’s toilet has still not been scaled up in the manner it should be. “All the intentions in pen and paper should be translated into practice” was emphasized by Meghna. She appealed to CFAR and BMC to take steps to find out the status of transgender living in Bhubaneswar and requested all officials to include transgender in the Jaga Mission Programme.

Responding to this criticism, Mr. Shishir Dash, State Head, Tata Trusts, agreed that much more needs to be done to make sanitation truly trans-inclusive. With the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0, he urged them, “to use the present opportunity and once more advocate with the policy makers for inclusive sanitation and sanction for subsidized toilets”.

Talking about role of men and the importance of changing social norms, Sambit Mohanty, actively involved in Men Engage movement said that, “Men have a huge responsibility to support efforts on sanitation and hygiene. While women and transgender are doing their bit to strengthen the empowerment process, however within the family, community and society the decision making power is with the men.” He added that “since men do not understand these issues and now all stakeholders led by women have to engage men and change power equations.”

The event was attended by representatives from community, civil society, development partners, media, officials and sanitation experts from Bhubaneswar.

The World Toilet Day, 2021 is a part of the Water for Women Fund, Australian Government supported project on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, implemented by CFAR across 67 wards in Bhubaneswar.