The civic authorities have found a way to stop the sickening roadside standing ovations to nature’s call near Puja pandals: a 4ftx3.7ft capsule toilet that is ergonomically designed for hygiene, mobility and easy access.
A popular utility at fairgrounds in the west such as the Glastonbury music gig in Britain and refugee camps around the world, 7ft-tall toilets are set to provide pandal-hoppers a clean alternative to the usually overflowing and stinky loos or the sneaky scamper for a secluded alley.
The portable potties are chic as chips and cheap too. The other pluses are a sturdy door, a large waste tank, a user-friendly seat, proper ventilation and three sets of toilet paper rolls.
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has planned to place at least 50 capsule toilets near some popular Puja pandals this year, including Ekdalia Evergreen, College Square, Suruchi Sangha, Hatibagan Sarbojanin and Bhowanipur Abasar.
“People stand in long queues for an hour or more in front of popular Puja pandals. So we decided to install capsule toilets. “We had asked all the 15 borough chairmen to provide a list of three-four crowd-pulling Pujas from their areas. Some Puja organisers had approached us with the request for such toilets near their pandals,” said Swapan Samaddar, mayoral council member (slum development).
“We have decided to have only 50 this year because of monetary constraints.”
These toilets will be in addition to those that the Puja organisers install, besides the Sulabh facilities available across the city.
Toilet is a major criteria in the CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Puja programme that awards Three Star, Four Star, Five Star and Model Puja titles to pandals based on parameters such as social commitment, safety, civic awareness and eco-friendliness.
“We are really happy that such toilets have been sanctioned near our Puja. We do have two Sulabh facilities nearby, open all night long during Pujas. Since we attract huge crowds, additional toilets will be a boon,” said Swarup Biswas, general secretary of Suruchi Sangha, which earned a Five Star status in 2012.
Biswas said capsule toilets would be placed near Deshapran Sashmal Road. “We have some big Pujas in the area. It is good that we are getting at least two units.”
Calcutta has a network of 150 pay-per-use toilets and little over 50 gratis urinals, but most are so poorly maintained that they are often called “Loos from Hell” or “Pee Punishment”. Hence it’s no surprise that many men take to the roadside or a dark corner to relieve themselves — during Pujas or otherwise. Women have little choice but to endure a full bladder in a snaking queue.
Not at Abasar Sarbajanin Durgotsav Committee in Bhowanipore this year, though. “We have struggled to provide toilet facilities for women during Puja. This year will have a proper washroom for women, a first in our Puja. We have been trying to get permission for such mobile toilets for years. We are glad that we can finally get it,” said Basudeb Banerjee, the joint secretary of the committee that has been part of the True Spirit Puja movement.
The toilets will be clean, close to a pandal, easy to spot and without any user charge.
The CMC has agreed to pay a private service provider Rs 2 lakh a day — that is Rs 4,000 per toilet — for the five days from Sashthi to Navami. In return, the service provider will deploy janitors to keep the toilets clean 24x7.
To try out the concept, the CMC will spend Rs 1 lakh and place such toilets at 21 ghats on the day of Tarpan. “It will help us gauge its functionality,” an official said.
“Unlike the ones built for the Brigade rallies, these 70kg a piece toilets will be free from stink, leakage and spillage,” a civic engineer said.
“Waste collected in a 60-gallon tank attached to the capsule will be treated with chemicals before disposal. An array of vents will keep the toilet airy and fresh,” the engineer added.