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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.8 Genebra Aug. 2002

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0042-96862002000800016 

News


Mumbai slum dwellers' sewage project goes nationwide

 

 

Mumbai's 6.7 million slum dwellers, for whom toilets are seen as a luxury, are ushering in a quiet sanitation revolution. They are building, planning and managing their own community toilets, in a 2 billion rupee (US$ 40 million) project supported by a World Bank loan to the federal government. The project covers around a quarter of the slums. All agree it could become a turning point in the city's development.

In the Ganesh Murthy Nagar slum in the Colaba district, women have taken the initiative to form a society for managing their two-storey toilet block, now under construction. According to Padma Adhikari, a member of the community, "We had one small, smelly toilet for a population of 10000. Women suffered the most because they had to relieve themselves in the open, and could do so only in the early mornings or after dark."

Slum societies have appointed caretakers, who will live with their families in an airy room on the second storey. The room extends onto a terrace, which holds a huge water tank, and even provides space for community meetings.

Across Mumbai, shanty dwellers are enthusiastically demanding these new toilets, and are taking responsibility for building and managing them. A visit to some of these slums revealed a remarkable change in attitude on the part both of the residents and of the civic authorities.

Gautam Chatterjee, a commissioner of the Brihan Mumbai Corporation (BMC), said "This effort seeks to resolve the fractured development of Mumbai which has been skewed in favour of the formal city. Mumbai's slum and pavement dwellers constitute 60% of the population and provide vital services to the city. City planners have ignored their basic needs for water, functioning toilets and a dignified existence."

The sparkling white toilet blocks constructed by the project stand out amidst the squalour of Mumbai's slums. The first phase, costing Rs 600 million (US$ 12 million), is seeing the construction of 9000 toilets in 400 locations.

Each block contains an average of 20 toilets, each intended to serve 50 persons. There is a 24-hour supply of water and electricity, wide sewerage pipes to minimize blockage, and tiles that facilitate easy cleaning. There are separate wings for women and men. For the first time in the history of public toilets in India, there is a special section for smaller children.

According to Chand Ram, the caretaker of one such block functioning in Dharavi, "My family has cleaned toilets for generations. Here, I and three of my family provide 24-hour attendance in four shifts. Each of us earns Rs 1500 (US$ 30) a month. I had never dreamt of finding such a job, and with such accommodation, in Mumbai."

Meena Jagdish Ramani is one of the contractors involved in the construction of these toilets. "Unlike BMC's brick constructions that crumble in no time, our toilets have deep foundations, and are built with steel girders and reinforced concrete, as in big buildings," she said with quiet pride.

Meena had no previous experience in building construction. She used to sell garlic from her shack by the railway lines until she found work through the Mahila Milan, a network of slum women who have been struggling for housing rights. They are supported by the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), a local nongovernmental organization that participated in an open tender and won a Rs 440 million (US$ 9 million) contract to construct 320 of the toilet blocks in the project.

"The commitment of Mumbai's slum communities to this cause of sanitation can be gauged from the fact that they have raised Rs 10 million (US$ 200000) for the creation of a maintenance fund to manage 320 new community toilet blocks," said Arputham Jockin, president of the National Slum Dwellers' Federation. The Federation is working closely with SPARC in this project.

Every adult has to make a one-time deposit of Rs 100 (US$ 2) towards the maintenance fund. If a family consists of more than five adults, it has to pay up to Rs 500 (US$ 10). The money is placed in a bank account, jointly managed by a BMC official and the slum society, and is earmarked to cover future repair costs.

Meanwhile, the community hasto decide how it will cover routine maintenance and operation costs, and devise its own schemes of regular collection of contributions. Many are charging Rs 10–15 (20–30 US cents) monthly, per person. They also propose to rent the terrace for community functions.

Michael Rodrigues is a member of the Bangalipura slum toilet-maintenance society at Wadala. He said "Everyone in our community has agreed to pay their share for the maintenance fund. They have instructed us not to open the new toilet blocks until a proper receipt is issued for every contribution received. Initially people did not believe that such a big project could happen in our slum. Now we are also planning to meet BMC officials directly to tackle our garbage problem, without going through middlemen."

If this approach works it will make a big difference to public hygiene in Mumbai. There are regular outbreaks of malaria, leptospirosis, diarrhoea, dengue, and hepatitis, which are just some of the diseases attributed to poor water and sanitation facilities in Mumbai. Much will also depend on the civic authorities making good on their commitment to providing access to sewerage pipelines and garbage collection facilities.

Officials say this "demand-led participatory approach" for sanitation improvement is new in Mumbai's slums. Seeing its success, the Corporation has issued a resolution stating that from now on, all toilet constructions in the city slums will follow this model. The city however, still has a long way to go before the sanitation revolution is complete. A Corporation survey last year revealed that Mumbai will need an investment of at least Rs 7.5 billion (US$150 mil- lion) to provide reasonable sanitation to all slum dwellers.

Nevertheless, seeing the success of the Mumbai project so far, the Government of India has launched a programme: "Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan" ("Mission for a Clean India") — to extend its activity nationwide.

Rupa Chinai, Mumbai, India