Who cares for the disabled? Public toilets are nonexistent or non-functional

New Delhi, Oct 26 (IANS) This national capital of over 16 million has 2.5 million disabled people for whom there are a mere 100 public toilets, supposedly designed for people with physical disabilities. But most of them are either non-functional or serve as makeshift storehouses, a survey has revealed.

The year-long survey conducted by NGO Samarthyam paints a grim picture of the access to public toilets by physically disabled people in Delhi - and that too only in the central part of the capital.

"Never ever have the civic agencies shown concern about the needs of persons with disabilities. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) cannot be a success till it is inclusive," Samarthyam executive director Anjlee Agarwal told IANS while sharing the findings of the survey.

On Oct 2, Delhi saw the launch of the Clean India Campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. From the ramparts of the Red Fort on Aug 15, Modi had also laid stress on providing toilets to every family.

Even after 68 years of independence, the county with the world's second largest population has the highest number of people defecating in the open. A UN report released in May 2014 said that a staggering 597 million people in India - more than half the population - practise open defecation.

The NGO, which works for the welfare of the disabled, conducted the survey to check the facilities as they felt the authorities treat the disabled as a "marginalized section." The survey was conducted by eight females, including girls, who were all disabled.

"These 100 toilets were built in the run up to the Commonwealth Games in 2010. You can well imagine that Delhi had no toilets for handicapped people before 2010," Agarwal said.

"Toilets for handicapped are themselves handicapped as many are not built keeping their special needs in the mind. Many of these were found to be locked down. Some served as storehouses," she added.

The survey revealed that these 100 toilets are only in the central part of the capital and are maintained by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), one of the city's five civic bodies. This means that other areas in Delhi, under the three municipal corporations, are not known to have such toilets or are non-functional.

The overall picture is also quite pathetic as the survey has brought out that there are just 1,200 public toilets in the national capital, of which only 301 are for women.

"The building bylaws of the urban development ministry say that a toilet cubicle for a handicapped person should not be less than 2X2.2 metres. Ironically, most of the time this has not been followed," Agarwal added.

"How could a wheelchair with a width of three feet enter a toilet cubicle through a door whose width is two and a half feet," Agarwal questioned.

"There has to be some manoeuvring space in the cubicle for a person with special needs," she added.

The survey also found that the disabled, particularly those who were wheel-chair bound, found it difficult to access the toilets as there were no ramps leading up to them.

Javed Abidi, director of the National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People in India, wanted to know whether the Clean India Campaign has any blueprint on the disabled.

"Swachh Bharat is indeed a good initiative, but is Narendra Modiji alive to the needs of the disabled?" Abidi asked while speaking to IANS.

"The toilets for disabled are only in central Delhi. Go to east Delhi and you will know the reality. Toilets are inaccessible for normal people, let alone the disabled," he added.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at gaurav.s@ians.in)

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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2014 00:00:33 IST