The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bathroom brigade in clean-up call
- Privy Council

Handkerchieves clenched firmly over determined noses, boys and girls in blue-and-white uniforms disappear into a pay-and-use toilet in Park Circus. Checklist in hand, they start poring over every inch of the filthy facility, diligently jotting down each observation on their sheets. The toilet inspection squad from Apeejay School is on the prowl. Around 300 children from the Park Street school have taken the responsibility of ensuring that 130 public bathrooms are kept clean. Good Morning Calcutta is what they are calling their bathroom battle.

On September 11, the kids from the school Interact Club approached mayor Subrata Mukherjee with a presentation — complete with pictures to prove the appalling conditions — to take over the maintenance of all the loos that were set up by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) but are managed and maintained by NGOs.

The mayor forwarded the kids to municipal commissioner Debashis Som, who suggested, instead, that the kids (“the only section of society that is not corrupt”) hand over monthly reports on the upkeep of the bathrooms, giving the NGOs time till September 27 to clean up their act.

The move has forced fast results. “Around 10 of the toilets we have visited since the meeting with NGOs have been painted,” smiles Sangeet Shirodkar, Interact Club president. Over numerous meetings at the CMC headquarters, the kids have not held back with their suggestions. And the school is thrilled with the cooperation from the authorities. “The mayor and the commissioner have been quick to respond to suggestions made by the kids. We hope to make this an on-going project,” says principal Reeta Chatterjee. The children, from Class IX upwards, hope that Good Morning Calcutta will not only increase levels of public hygiene, but also raise awareness about the need for cleanliness. Every month, inspectors appointed to a particular toilet will ensure that they are being cleaned properly, water taps are working and do not leak, doors and windows are not broken, the attendant is present, the floors are not slippery, the flushes work, there is soap with every basin, buckets and mugs are provided and there are proper signs in and outside the facility.

Since the kids’ proposed clean-up project was curtailed in scope, they have taken on an added responsibility — to clean up the graves of Henry Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt. On Monday, the clean-up crew showed up at the Park Street cemetery with CMC workers to start off on Derozio’s grave. A fresh coat of paint and a revamp of the lighting are awaited.

The teen brigade has drawn the attention of the civic authorities to the fact that there is not a single toilet on Park Street, or on the zone between Chowringhee and Rawdon Street. That is soon to be rectified, CMC officials assured the kids. A more unorthodox idea was to build a “five-star public toilet” for visitors to the city. “We even suggested they replace manual taps with automatic taps, normal soap with liquid soap,” explains Neeraj Sadani, a Class XI student and Interact board member. The students did want to take charge of the urinals, but were stopped short by the dry taps there. The authorities have assured them that these are due for demolition in the near future.

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