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Balen Shah triggers the trend of letting the public access private toilets. What’s needed next?

The Kathmandu metropolitan city under the newly elected Mayor Balen Shah recently asked the hotels, restaurants and banks in the city to reach out to the metropolitan office if they want to allow their toilet for public use.  

This was one of the first initiations since Shah’s election last month. Even before the city government’s official decision, some businesses already let the public use their toilets based on the mayor’s call on social media. The initiative has been so much appreciated that even other cities such as Pokhara have formally followed it.

The public and experts, however, question if the trend in business will sustain in terms of management and hygiene, and if yes, how long. They highlight more legal and policy initiatives are necessary to ensure effectiveness.

Praises galore

Some businesses in Lumbini and other parts of the country have also volunteered to announce letting the public use their facilities. Nilambar / Twitter
Some businesses in Lumbini and other parts of the country have also volunteered to announce letting the public use their facilities. Nilambar/Twitter

In their rush to support the call, some restaurants, hotels and banks have voluntarily permitted the public to use their toilets. Further, those who welcomed the decision and initiated it are getting much appreciation along with popularity among the public.

RDX Bar of Thamel is one of the first places to follow the trend. According to the bar, it started the service just to support Shah. 

“After permitting people to use our toilets publicly, the footfall in our place has increased relatively,” says Rojesh Man Bajracharya, the owner of the RDX Bar. Some of them actually use the facility while some others just come to take photos of the bar, according to him. 

After the announcement, the place has gone viral on social media mainly due to its unique entrance gate that exactly looks like a three-wheeler tempo’s door. The bar does not charge any fees to use the toilet and till now it has not faced any difficulties in managing it. 

Meanwhile, Nabil Bank has also announced to provide their toilets for public use in its 18 branches within the city.

“The initiation may look simple and small, but it will help a large number of people,” says Anil Keshary Shah, CEO of Nabil Bank, adding, “It is also our social responsibility to help the people in such a way.”

“Nabil Bank is proud to have entered into an MoU with the KMC allowing our restrooms to be used by the public. We need to move together ahead if we are to build our city to be all we want it to be,” writes Shah on his social media handle.  

Likewise, this idea is spreading to other cities in the country. The Pokhara metropolitan city has recently announced a similar decision.

Some businesses in Lumbini and other parts of the country have also volunteered to announce letting the public use their facilities.

What next?

Kathmandu Mayor Balen Shah and his deputy Sunita Dangol. Photo: Aryan Dhimal
Kathmandu Mayor Balen Shah and his deputy Sunita Dangol. Photo: Aryan Dhimal

Moreover, Mayor Shah during the second municipal meeting on Sunday said that the city government would soon provide the materials to clean toilets every four months to those who agreed to support his decision. Similarly, he also informed a call for tenders would be opened soon for the construction of 10 new smart public toilets.  

According to the metropolitan office, the offices and organisations are rapidly allowing the public to use their toilets. “In the last few days, the demand for signboards that include signs for public toilets has increased unexpectedly,” says Bhoop Dev Shah, the personal secretary of the mayor. 

“Over 500 offices have already demanded it, but due to delay in the making, we haven’t been able to provide it timely.”

The city government would provide the signboards to only those places that are making their toilets public in coordination with the government. However, there is no mandatory official procedure to follow the initiation. One can simply make their toilet available to the public.

What more is needed?

smart toilet patan dhoka outside
A smart public toilet in Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur. Photo: Chandra Bahadur Ale

But, it is not that everything is solved with the new trend on the rise. For example, social media users have questioned the sustainability of such initiatives.

  • “Arrangement for a public toilet is a must and the municipality has taken a very good initiation,” tweets Binay Dutta. “But this is not a permanent solution, please think of a permanent solution and start constructing separate toilets.” 
  • Likewise, another tweet by Aryal Krishna reads, “Doubt on maintenance of hygiene in hotels and restaurants with public gathering. Otherwise appreciated.” 
  • “This is brilliant! Wouldn’t it be nice to have some toilets for the differently able as well? I’m hopeful for this to take shape. Best wishes!,” tweets Shilu Nagarkoti.

Experts also share the concerns. Health and sanitation expert Prakash Amatya says if the private organisations had been committed to the initiative, they could have started it earlier because from the beginning they were there to serve the public.

However, the new leadership has made them aware of it. “This is really an appreciative move,” he says.

Yet, Amatya says there are challenges to its proper implementation. The country does not have proper policies to address the issue of public toilets. “Unless we have proper monitoring and regulation mechanisms, such initiatives will fail, ” says Amatya. 

Moreover, he also shows concerns over the need for a necessary legal foundation to support the initiative. The proper legal foundation, monitoring and regulation mechanism should be responsible to check whether those toilets are hygienic and whether they are charging a fair amount to service seekers.

Likewise, he also urges the concerned authority to build more public toilets and improve the condition of existing ones.

Water expert Suman Prasad Sharma also echoes Amatya. He also shows concerns over the proper regulation and monitoring mechanisms for its finest implementation. Moreover, Sharma believes that ultimately the city government should construct its own public toilets to resolve all the issues.

Amatya adds, “The constitution has guaranteed water and sanitation as a fundamental right, but, unfortunately, the government of Nepal hasn’t been able to implement an act on it even after years of promulgating the constitution.”

He also says the way the private offices are following the trend does not look professional. “There must be an agreement between the private spaces and KMC to ensure its sustainability. Otherwise, the idea will turn futile.”

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Prasun Sangroula is an Onlinekhabar correspondent, mainly covering arts, society and sports.

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