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‘Write what you will do, and do what you write’

At the alarming rate at which India is urbanising, public toilets are unable to keep pace with the change. Both their numbers and maintenance leave much to be desired. Urban local bodies may appoint agencies to maintain these, but loopholes in the contracts and a lack of effective monitoring leave many toilets unusable by intended clientele.

With years of experience in public sanitation, Shriram Ghate paints a picture of the way forward


At various levels like gram panchayat, taluka and district, the number and distribution of public toilets was decided based on then-available population data, or the demands raised by the local elected bodies. Considering the rapid pace of urbanisation – whether vertical or horizontal – within city limits, future, or even existing numbers of toilets need immediate attention and revision.

Public toilets are placed inside buildings (private/ public) at any accessible area, mainly in hutments and on the road where traffic flow is noticeable. As per norms, there should also be public toilets at toll plazas, refreshment centres and so on.

In the current scenario, and considering rapid road connectivity, public toilets should be proper restrooms that are built at regular intervals, varying from 3 km to 10 km, depending upon vehicular flow. We must keep in mind that such toilets should have added facilities for the aged, differently abled, women and children.


As per the planning of respective bodies, toilets are to be built and maintained according to the data available. However, due to rapid population growth, migration and other factors, the upkeep of toilets is not up to the mark.

For improving and maintaining public toilets/ restrooms, funds from other bodies like charitable institutions, CSR funds, voluntary donors, funds from elected government representatives etc. should be used. A better solution may be the gradation of public toilets and periodic revision of the same.

Precise tenders

Every tender needs to include an SOP for toilet maintenance; I have seen many tenders without one. There are no clear definitions of what ‘cleaning’ constitutes; only ‘cleaning services are to be provided’ is mentioned. Vague terms are used, like ‘the toilet has to be cleaned properly’. To what extent? What material is to be used? How is this to be assessed? Has the agency committed to meeting these requirements? Is it actually doing so? Each person’s assessment of this will be different.

‘Write down what you want to do, and do what you have written’ should be the maxim of agencies appointed for public toilet maintenance.

There are no clear definitions of what ‘cleaning’ constitutes; only ‘cleaning services are to be provided’ is mentioned. Vague terms are used, like ‘the toilet has to be cleaned properly’.

Shriram Ghate

Better tendering

For the maintenance of public toilets, tenders are floated, and the contract is always awarded to L1. But how much can the L1 vendor achieve? They will have to compromise on both workers and the quality of materials used.

We cannot compare apples with oranges. The public toilet at a busy railway station cannot be compared to an airport toilet. Planning and budgeting for both need to be different.

Better materials

At many public toilets, cleaning is done as per traditional, manual practices that involve a bucket, mop and phenyl. Modern technology is yet to be implemented, either due to a lack of knowledge or lack of funds. Cleaning is not the be-all and end-all of toilet maintenance; hygiene is. This needs proper investment in both men and machines that are meant exclusively for toilets. In my entire career, I have never seen high pressure jets being used to clean public toilets.

Only those chemicals that are branded and approved by the government bodies must be used. At present, many agencies are using homemade chemicals or phenyl. The contract may only stipulate that ‘cleaning chemicals’ need to be used; over-diluted phenyl also fulfills this requirement. It is not an uncommon sight to see a half-full can of branded chemical at a public toilet, and to continue to see it half-full till the end of the contract.

Auditors needed

In government bodies – HR, admin or sanitation inspectors – whoever are responsible for public toilet maintenance, needs to be accountable. However, there may not be enough personnel to properly oversee public toilets.

Hence, regular third-party audits of and for cleaning, grading and ranking of public toilets is essential. Using the SOP as a guide, auditing will reveal whether the promised output has been delivered or not. An auditor’s job is not just to find mistakes but also determine reasons for it and suggest ways to correct the mistakes.


At present, in many cases, the rooftop of a public toilet is utilised only for water storage tanks, cleaners’ rest room and storage of sundry material; it may even be unused. Since the public toilets in open spaces are very accessible and visible, their roofs can be monetised by leasing them out for advertisements, or installing solar panels that can make them independent of the grid for power.


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