On World Toilet day Monday, social activists and environmentalists in the Taj city demanded more public toilets, better public hygiene standards and regular cleaning of Yamuna ghats which are used more for open defecation than bathing in the river.
In its memorandum to the Agra Municipal Corporation, the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society drew attention to the sorry state of public toilets which are neither cleaned on a regular basis nor maintained. "Half a dozen fancy toilets on M.G. Road remain locked. Their value is only for advertisement hoardings," said Surendra Sharma, president of the society.
The Raja ki Mandi railway station needs better public toilets for domestic and foreign tourists.
Environmentalist Shravan Kumar Singh said: "Toilet facilities are virtually non-existent outside monuments where people have to wait for long hours to get entrance tickets. So people relieve themselves in bushes or on heaps of garbage. Outside Agra Fort, there is only one pay-toilet, which leads to many people relieving themselves along the roadside."
With so many historical monuments in the city, Agra needs at least one public toilet every kilometre. "Even the one maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the Taj Mahal stinks and remains choked," said a speaker at a discussion here on World Toilet Day.
The ASI launched the annual heritage week Monday allowing free entry to the Taj Mahal.
Local residents are concerned about people defecating by the roadside in most parts of Agra, around the historical monuments, railway tracks and public parks.
One of the chief causes of river pollution in Agra is defecation by the river bed or along drains that flow into the Yamuna.
Yamuna Bachao Abhiyan has expressed concern over the poor maintenance of public toilets. "Without water and regular cleanliness efforts, people have no choice but to look for alternatives," the group said.
The Agra Nagar Nigam has undertaken a project to convert all dry latrines into flush toilets, for which Rs.2,000 is paid to each family. But despite construction of thousands of flush latrines, people haven't changed their habits. "Why should we pay to go to the toilet when this ritual can be done free," said a local.
"Where's the water for flushing toilets," asks Manu Bhai of Gokulpura. "When there's no water to drink or cook meals, how do you think people would clean up toilets on the second or the third floor," he wondered.
School teacher and activist Meera Gupta laments the lack of toilets for women. "Bad toilet habits and unclean ones breed common ailments. Times have changed. From predominantly rural we are now becoming an urban society. People should adjust to new conditions and change their mindsets," she said.