Oped

Missed opportunities

  • A forced levy on public toilets can only drive the poor to nearest and most convenient open space
- Shyam Kc, Kathmandu

Mar 25, 2016-The sight in various parts of the Capital and adjoining cities immediately after the devastating earthquake exactly eleven months ago was pathetic to say the least. There were many people hiding their faces while using the open spaces as their toilet. In times of such disasters, it is but natural that the people pushed to the streets—or to open spaces if any were left in the urbanisation mania—use whatever means they can to ease their suffering and to survive. Moreover, the lack of proper public toilets in the three cities is a telling tale of how incompetent our local and central authorities, coaxed by political leaders, are in meeting some of the essential needs of the people. 

Public convenience

There are a few public toilets these days. But are they free? Hardly. The ones I see in the city, and sometimes go to, charge you for their use. They should have been free as they are supposed to be run by local authorities. Many of us who live in the city or who are visiting it use these toilets sometimes. But what about thousands and thousands of others who come to the Valley from the Himalayas, hills and Madesh? They come to the Valley to find work and earn a meagre living for themselves and their families. For them and others, there is no better alternative than to use the river banks and other open spaces like Tundhikhel as their toilet even in normal times. For, not all of us are able or willing to pay for the use of public toilets supposedly constructed by the local authority for the convenience of the people with people’s money. Even in the days of the autocratic Rana rule, there were enough free public toilets in the Capital but all of them seem to have disappeared.

More recently, there was a free public toilet next to the New Road Gate, another just before entering Basantapur from the New Road side, and yet another at Hanuman Dhoka Kot area. They no longer exist. The one at the New Road Gate has been gobbled up by the Nepal Airlines, and shops have sprung up in the place of the public toilet at Basantapur. The ruling elites these days seem to have forgotten that free public toilets are essential if the country is to attain a clean and healthy environment. A few public toilets that do exist around Tundhikhel levy a fee on their users. It would probably have been better if donation boxes were placed there for those who can and want to pay.  A forced levy can only drive the poor to the nearest and most convenient open space. 

The disappearance of public toilets in the city is not the only case that needs to be looked into. There were also a lot of patis and pauwas in the Capital and in the other two cities of the Valley. They were made for the poor people who come to the Valley from other parts of the country but have no place of their own to stay. They were meant for them to spend the night and for travellers as places to rest. Most of them have disappeared. Similar is the case with a few Dharamshalas—free lodging, specially used during festivals like Shiva Ratri when thousands flocked to the Capital. One can only hope that this is not the case in other urban and rural areas of the country.

Other woes

And then there is the plight of the streets in the city, especially the narrow lanes and by-lanes where the people have to jostle each other to move about. To add to the woes of the people, these lanes and by-lanes are also used by cars and motor bikes. The streets of Kathmandu, particularly in the inner parts, were never meant for mass vehicular traffic and yet the local authorities, the traffic police, and other concerned officials seem indifferent to the problems the people have to face even to walk peacefully on the streets. The authorities in the Kathmandu municipality seem bent on bowing—maybe for a price—to real estate mafias, and the agency backed by the concerned minister seems to support them. So in place of a bus stop that helps the people to move about, we will soon see a massive structure that will dwarf the fallen Dharahara. One wonders where the bus stop will be re-located and how convenient the new one will be for the people who use it—if it ever materialises as it would be more convenient and profitable for the authorities to use the New Bus Park.

The roads in the city are in a state of total disrepair and nothing seems to have been done to right the situation. The sewerage system in many parts of the capital is in a mess and locals in many areas face the danger of contamination and health problems, but the municipality and the government seem to be ignorant of what is going on under their very eyes. These kinds of phenomena have been going on for a long time, especially after the great revolution of 2006. The natural calamity of April last year that took the lives almost 9,000 Nepalis and rendered countless others homeless was an opportunity for the authorities to right the wrongs, and to bring back some law and order in the country. But when opportunities are missed—because leaders seem to be obsessed with lust for political power and wealth rather than really caring for the people—they never come back. 

 

Published: 25-03-2016 08:34

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