Why Swachh Bharat stinks

The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) has issued a diktat to all hotels, restaurants, and eateries in its jurisdiction to the effect that they should throw open their washrooms to the public from April 1. This is an assault on private property. Further, the measure also flies in the face of the claims that the authorities are committed to improve the ease of doing business.

The decision makes it possible for anybody to access washrooms in even five-star hotels of South Delhi; the person will just have to pay Rs 5 for the service rendered by the hotel or restaurant. The only difference being that this is a service they can’t refuse. Evidently, it makes nonsense of the notice, ‘rights of admission reserved,’ that prominent restaurants display. The sudden irrelevance of this notice is a death knell of private property, for if an entrepreneur doesn’t have the right to say ‘no’ to somebody to enter their premises, his right of property is severely curtailed.

According to a report in Hindustan Times (March 15), “the decision has been taken on the advice of Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal to explore the possibility of making toilets in restaurants and hotels open to public use.”

That the advice came from the man handpicked by the Narendra Modi government tells something about the Prime Minister’s cluelessness about the concerns of the hospitality sector. “We want the hotels and restaurants to adhere to the decision in full spirit rather than wait for the SDMC to enforce it,” SDMC commissioner Puneet Goel was quoted as saying, “The hotels and restaurants will also need to put up display boards informing the public about the facilities. The managements of these restaurants have been given the discretion to charge up to Rs 5 per usage to cover their costs towards maintenance and cleaning.”

The official’s statement reeks of an imperial attitude: ‘we’ decide and you had better “adhere to the decision in full spirit”; you will also have to invite people to use their washrooms; in our infinite benevolence, you “have been given the discretion to charge up to Rs 5 per usage.” As if an entrepreneur sets up an eatery to let people answer the call of nature.

The SDMC’s fatwa against the hospitality sector is doubly shameless because it is also an effort by the authorities to cover their own inadequacies and to shift their responsibilities on to the private entities. It is not just dereliction of duty by the local authorities; it is also their tacit acceptance that they are incapable of providing toilets. Another HT report (March 23) quoted a study by NGO Action Aid in December. It found that only 149 out of 229 toilets surveyed had facilities for women. “Most of these women toilets are used by men in the absence of any upkeep. They had missing doors and locks making it impossible for women to use them. Also, toilets constructed in commercial areas were in bigger mess,” said Barsha Chakraborty, campaign manager, Action Aid.

Further, according to the report, out of 229 toilets 70 per cent were not clean, 65 per cent had no flush facility, 50 per cent had no water supply, 70 per cent had no signages, and almost 70 per cent were not disabled friendly.

The filth of India is anyway legendary; anybody who lives in any city knows this fact. All this is because of the incompetence (and worse) of people like Baijal and Garg, who are now thrusting dictatorial rulings down the throats of restaurant and hotel owners.

There is also the issue of implementation. What would SDMC do to enforce it? Would it appoint officials for every eatery to ensure that the diktat is followed in letter and spirit? Or would they ask the police to do that? But our cops are reluctant to file complaints even of serious crimes, so is it reasonable to expect them to act on something as trifling as the denial of toilet use by a restaurant? Wouldn’t this provision become another pretext by SDMC officials to harass restaurant owners?

In short, the idea to force eatery owners to do the job of municipality is as harebrained as it is illiberal. But bad ideas gain currency fast; thus, we should not be surprised that this spreads in other parts of the country. All in the name of Swachh Bharat.