Bye-bye stink, welcome Smart City 

    29-Dec-2022
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Ninglun Hanghal
As we ready to welcome 2023, here are some thoughts over our fast-growing soon-to-be-smart capital city, Imphal which is also the the administration centre and commercial hub for the State. All these qualities in the city also makes it vulnerable to population pressures from all sides.  All the districts are connected through Imphal and thus the city is a transit route for people from the entire State. No wonder then that like many other capital cities, Imphal is chaotic and congested.
It is also shockingly short of public conveniences needed for a huge population that is floating. Therefore, here is one question for ourselves: where are the public urinals ?
One can raise the same question for other urban centres like Thoubal or Churachandpur but for now let us have the limited discussion for Imphal.
In 2014, the Imphal Municipal Council was upgraded to Municipal Corporation giving reason to pride ourselves at having an IMC similar to bigger cities like Chennai, Jaipur or Bangalore. Eight years later, as we say bye-bye to 2022 we are sniffing in disgust at the odours from our roadsides left behind by those desperate to relieve themselves.
Positive changes like better roads or infrastructure ought to be appreciated, while citizens are obligated to raise red flags for omissions. Complicated questions of increasing urbanisation will have expensive answers so why not start by plucking the low-hanging fruits-the easy questions with relatively easier answers.
This is imperative and could be simple because we have a National policy for cleanliness in place for the first time–the Swachh Bharat Campaign launched by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So why do we not find public toilets at key locations in a city of nearly half-a-million people? The public conveniences are few and far between anywhere in Imphal. That is evident at the stinking corners whether in crowded markets or even outside the gate of the prestigious Regional Institute of Medical Sciences and other public places. Yes, one can find a urinal or two inside some of the markets. But public urinals should be accessible to people at large.
Clean and conveniently located public washrooms are a symbol of not just good urban planning but also signify good public health. Presence of clean public utilities is an indication of civilised commu- nities.
For instance, public urinals should be located at bus parkings, particularly at bus stands that cater to buses plying between the district headquarters. People who travel down from the hills, from interior areas into the capital city need a bare minimum place to relieve themselves.
Instead, we have people peeing by the roadside. Women take the difficult option of consuming less water so that they do not have to face the embarrassment of running around looking for a public loo where there are none. Menstruating women need hygienic public toilets with proper water supply.
It may also be mentioned that the very few public toilets are not in a good shape-they stink and women’s toilets are without doors. They charge Rs10 to use the stinking toilets. An amount of Rs 10 for say, a vegetable vendor who may need to relieve herself at least four times on a cold day will have to pay 50 rupees every day. One may say it is virtually a human rights violation to subject a poor hardworking person to such a hardship.
This raises the question whether construction of public urinals in a capital city should form part of the civic sanitation plan, a bounden duty of the administration. Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore administrations have incorporated this plan and have even hired architecture firms to design lavatories that could be economically and hygienically sustained. Why should Imphal be left behind.  We are eager to enforce bye-laws for daily-earning vendors or rickshaw-pullers. Why then not show the same enthusiasm to enforce cleanliness by forcing the administration to dedicate corners for clean public toilets.
This vital area of public health should be ideally addressed directly by the Govt. At least at the start. Solid waste management and providing clean water need relatively sophisticated solutions. But providing small conveniences are simple tasks – one only needs the willingness.
Some of the alternatives can be to explore public-private partnerships, engage CSOs/ NGOs that could alleviate this scourge. Even entrepreneurs could step in and float outfits like Sulabh International whose public toilets are visible across India.
Tourism rush is beginning to rise as the Sangai festival assumes a bigger more effective format that spreads across the districts of Manipur. Would we like our foreign guests to look for some smelly corner to relieve themselves or be pleased to find a public convenience at all major locations.
There are 27 wards under the IMC, according to its slightly outdated website. As a resolution for the new year on January 1, 2023 the Government of Manipur could start work in at least a few densely populated wards and give a push to a Swachh Imphal campaign.
Better management plans can be worked out for the district headquarter towns before these small towns grow into unplanned cities without public conveniences. Imphal can be a model town for urban management for the district towns.
It will be a smart move to allocate a healthy budget, evolve a management strategy and implement it sincerely. No one will raise a stink for that.