India Interior

Comfort stations to the rescue

Sarita Brara | Updated on January 25, 2020 Published on January 25, 2020

The community sanitary complex in Dadahu   -  Sarita Brara

Harludamot village

Himachal Pradesh is innovating with community sanitary complexes across districts

The bazaar with over 200 shops stretches along the road in the semi urban area of Dadahu on the State highway that takes you to Renuka lake from Nahan in Sirmour, one of the most backward districts of Himachal Pradesh.

Hundreds of villagers from over two dozen panchayats come to this market to shop for their daily needs. Till not long ago, barring a toilet at the bus stop, there was no facility in the market for the villagers or the large number of tourists who stop here on the way to the picturesque lake. Minus proper facilitation, open defecation was the option for many.

Dadahu is also the Pravesh Dwar (entry gate) for the Renuka fair attracting sizeable crowds. Shakuntala, head of the Dadahu gram panchayat, says it was after repeated demands that finally a community sanitary complex (CSC), with two separate toilets each for men and women, was constructed over two years ago near the market.

About 35 km from Dadahu is Harludamot village in Nahar Sawar gram panchayat dominated by Gujar Muslims. The people of this and other surrounding villages come to the mosque here for prayers. Till a community sanitary complex was constructed, open defecation was a huge problem. Yusuf Ai, a ward member and prominent member of the Gujar community, says the situation became worse during festivities like marriages and other gatherings.

Today, the situation has improved. Villager Abdul Ghani says the new toilet complex is clean and there is a water tank installed. Many residents of the village prefer to use the community toilets rather than their own.

So far, 1,600 CSCs have been constructed across the 12 districts of Himachal Pradesh. The State government has sought sanction for 2,462 more CSCs in 2019-2020.

On highways too

While the focus so far has been on constructing CSCs near bus stops, markets and inside villages based on demands by the panchayats, there is a growing realisation that with overcrowding at toilets next to bus stops which are not properly maintained, there is a need for such facilities on State and national highways running through the State, says Anil Sharma, Joint Director, Rural Department.

A pilot project to construct innovative wayside facilities has been approved. According to department officials, apart from toilets for men and women, these complexes will have an accessible toilet for people with disabilities, a changing room, space to stretch one’s legs and an outlet run by women Self-Help Groups (mahila mandals) that will sell eatables and local handicraft.

To start with, four such wayside facilities will come up on the highways running through Nahan, Solan, Una and Mashobra blocks. As in the case of CSCs, this will also be on 90:10 sharing basis, with the Centre spending 90 per cent of the cost and the rest to be borne by the State. To be constructed at an estimated cost of ₹1 crore each, the design of these is being finalised.

The first such wayside facility is coming up at Bagpashog in Pachhad block of Sirmour district on the 75 km Nahan-Kumarhatti national highway. The Deputy Commissioner, Nahan, Dr RK Pruthi, says there will be space for parking, a traditional and modern kitchen and a rural haat that will display and sell handicrafts and other products made by women groups.

Recycling of waste, water harvesting and use of solar power is being planned for this facility, he adds.

According to Anil Sharma, one of the road blocks that come in the way of construction, especially on the highways, is the issue of land ownership. Land owners are often either unwilling to part with their property or are demanding an exorbitant price for it.

While Himachal Pradesh was declared open defecation-free in 2016, the practice still continues at places, with a floating population and inadequate public toilet facilities.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on January 25, 2020

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