Srinagar, Mar 8: The Srinagar Smart City aspires to use innovative and inclusive solutions to “enhance the quality of life for its citizens”. However, the situation could not be more different when it comes to facilities for women, particularly ‘pink toilets’ for them.
Smart cities cannot be “smart” if there is a dearth of amenities for women, said Sabeen Gulrez, while Mehvish pointed out that the business centre of the city, Lal Chowk, “has just one or two washrooms”.
According to a Swachh Bharat Mission advisory for public and community toilets issued by the Union housing and urban affairs ministry, there should be one “water closet” per 250 men and one per 100 women.
“We are facing a lot of problems when it comes to washrooms. If we are talking about a smart city, there should be connectivity and public washrooms,” Mehvish said.
Srinagar Municipal Corporation Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu said the civic body is addressing the concern on priority.
“We are building community toilets. We have drafted a plan to build 100 to 150 community toilets every year. Like in Chandigarh, there is a rule in the master plan to have a community toilet every 500 feet,” Mattu said.
He said the civic body is facing difficulty in finding land to build community washrooms. “Here we have a problem… We don’t have spaces available because it is a congested city but we have added some toilets,” Mattu said, assuring that some pink toilets — an amenity just for women — will be added across the city this year.
The ‘pink toilet’ concept aims to increase women’s physical and economic mobility by creating safe and gender friendly public spaces, thus increasing their participation in public life, officials said.
“Every day we are discussing women empowerment… There should be separate washrooms for women. We feel insecure in using common washrooms,” Mehvish said.
Gulrez feels talking about a smart city without facilities such as public convenience for women is just a rhetoric. “We are living in the 21st century and do you think we should call this a smart city? Except at a few places, there is no facility of convenience for women. The ladies’ market of Gonikhan is nearby but there are no washrooms there,” she said.
If women do not feel safe what is the point of the Smart City project, how can a woman walk a kilometre to find a washroom in the market, she asked.
Bismah, another local, said Lal Chowk is the city centre but has just one public washroom for women. “In this city, there no washrooms are visible anywhere… where will we go?” she asked.
The civic body’s commissioner Athar Aamir Khan said 730 toilets have been built under the Swachh Bharat Mission. “We have taken up another 35 toilet blocks, which we will build at prominent places. Of these, a few are exclusively pink toilets,” Khan said.
Khan also admitted that maintenance of the public conveniences is a big issue. “For that, we are outsourcing these toilets to private entities where users will be charged and the funds used to maintain these facilities,” he added.
The Srinagar Smart City website mentions that the project “aspires to leverage its (city’s) natural and cultural heritage/tourism, through innovative and inclusive solutions, enhance the quality of life for its citizens”.
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