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How about some clean public loos?

Vinay Kamath | Updated on October 13, 2014

TIRUCHI, TAMILNADU, 19/08/2013: The public toilet at the Collectrate complex under lock and key, in Tiruchi. Photo: M. Moorthy

Forget the West. Thailand and even Cambodia are better than us

The spokesman of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Lalit Bhanot, was panned by one and all for his comment that everyone has different standards about cleanliness. The Westerners have different standards, we have different ones, he was quoted as saying.

Ironically, Bhanot may have a point there. And, I’m not talking about Westerners, but just look at other Asian countries around us.

Bangkok is a congested city of over 10 million people and one seems to be perpetually in a traffic jam. But, I was quite surprised to see, at least the parts I travelled in, the streets and pavements fairly clean, not spilling over with garbage as in Chennai. Public toilets are everywhere and clean. There are pavements to walk on. One noticed that street side vendors cleaned up after they packed up for the day. You just have to think that you need to find a washroom and presto there’s one round the corner.

If Thailand is relatively prosperous, take Cambodia. A colleague recently returned from a visit to the famed Angkor Wat temple. Cambodia is categorically a poor country, but my colleague was surprised to find everything scrupulously clean around the temples. Even petty shops in the temple premises kept clean surroundings, he said. So, keeping things clean has nothing to do with poverty levels.

Compare this to a visit I made a few years ago to the Brihadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur, a Unesco world heritage monument. The state of the public toilet was pitiable. Not even a wash basin but one had to dip one’s hand into a tank of water to wash.

So, it’s great news that the Modi government has launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, with a pledge to construct more toilets. It isn’t just about building more toilets, but maintaining them and providing them with the water and the facilities to keep loos clean. Seeing our Asian brethren, one feels quite humbled. We have much ground to cover.

(Vinay Kamath is Associate Editor)

Published on October 13, 2014

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