Tinsukia: From a dilapidated public toilet that remained closed for years shortly after its inauguration to a revitalized modern restroom with the latest amenities, a story of both ‘government apathy’ and a ‘citizen’s initiative’ is being scripted in Assam’s commercial town of Tinsukia.

The public toilet near SKF police point in the heart of this upper Assam town is on the verge of yet another inauguration, this time with an aim to foster urban livability and help people use the public utility without having to relieve themselves in open.

The initiative to make the public toilet usable again is being undertaken by renowned businessman of Tinsukia Vijay Kumar Jain.

Businessman Vijay Kumar Jain

“Public toilets contribute to public health and a clean environment,” the septuagenarian said.

“I was saddened to see the fate of a public toilet constructed with the taxpayers’ money lying closed in unusable condition. The area being densely populated and highly commercial, should have hygienic public toilets. That’s when the idea to revive them hit me. Once functional, the commuters, shopkeepers, customers and daily wage workers would be able to use a hygienic public washroom,” Jain said.

The renovated public toilet will consist of six cubicles, with two reserved for women. Of the six toilets, five would be western and one Indian-style. The women’s toilet will have a separate entrance. 

Tinsukia commercial town was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) on December 15, 2018.

Picture of public toilet lying in dilapidated condition and presently in renovation stage

Talking to EastMojo, Divyam Modi, a shopkeeper from the Manav Kalyan Road locality said, “The public toilet in my area was built more than a decade ago but soon it turned into shambles. For a decade now, we have been seeing first-hand how authorities wasted taxpayers’ money.”

“It is a good thing that the public toilet is being renovated. I hope the Tinsukia municipality maintains it properly this time around,” Modi added.

“As there is hardly any provision of toilets in the commercial building markets scattered all around this area, we are left with no choice but to relieve ourselves in the open,” Amar Yadav, an employee working at a shop in Chirwapatty locality, said.

Picture of the inside of public toilet which is being uplifted and revamped

“It is not just us employees, but even the shopkeepers, customers and people from various walks of life visiting this area, including traffic police personnel, can be often seen standing on the septic tank of this public toilet to discharge its urinal waste in the open,” Yadav said.

The public toilet was built by Tinsukia Municipal Board in the year 2009-10 at a cost of Rs 4 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Assam Vikash Yojana fund.

The executive officer of Tinsukia Municipal Board, Monjit Doley said, “To boost the dilapidated infrastructure, I have given a thrust to Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model, thereby roping in a private entity of Tinsukia to adopt the public toilet near SKF police point for renovation. Once the uplifting and renovation work is complete, it will be handed over to Tinsukia municipality,” he added.

In absence of a public toilet, people urinate in the open.

On questions of how a public toilet made using taxpayers’ money was not looked after properly, Doley said, “I took charge as EO of Tinsukia municipality in the last week of December 2021. I don’t think it will be appropriate for me to comment.”

“What I can assure now is that my focus is on improving amenities of public utility falling under my jurisdiction,” Doley added.

A public restroom is of paramount importance for people working long hours on the roads, away from home.

“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for someone to wait until they reach their homes to use the toilet because of unclean public bathrooms. This affects the body in a negative way,” said Dr Kaushik Dey, gynaecologist, Tinsukia, while highlighting the importance of hygienic public toilets on the health of a person.

“Open defecation has not only led to illness but is also a leading cause of diarrheal deaths. Without improved sanitation facilities and awareness, the risk of infection and other illnesses from faecal sludge or wastewater is extremely high,” Dr Kaushik said.

“Sanitation plays an important role in all our lives, and contributes towards our sustainable, inclusive development,” added Dr Kaushik.

The issue of dilapidated public toilet condition was raised by Aam Aadmi Party during the recent municipality election earlier this year. Showing the dirty condition of the toilet, AAP leader Lakshmikant Dubey had pointed out, “This is the condition of a public toilet in the heart of Tinsukia which is operated by Tinsukia municipality. Where will women go to urinate?”

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