India Insight

The news this weekend: LPG, Kejriwal, toilets, politicians… and Somali pirates

It’s shaping up as a busy weekend for India’s politicians…

The price of LPG — liquefied petroleum gas cylinders, or cooking gas — has risen 11.42 rupees per cylinder because dealers are getting higher commissions. TV channels attacked the government because this “shocker” comes right after the imposition of a cap on subsidized cylinder sales was imposed.

Bharatiya Janata Party politician Smriti Irani said the party will hold a nation-wide protest on Oct. 12, saying the higher prices are “anti-women”. This is presumably because they do more of the daily cooking than men, whose potential inversely proportional waistline shrinkage could be in their favour.

We all know who the main attraction is on news channels nowadays: social activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal. Here are the pots that he’s stirring: Accusing Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, and DLF, India’s top listed real estate developer, of being involved in shady deals which could have favoured Vadra. Vadra has replied, as has the DLF. Short story: they committed no illegal acts. Protesting against higher electricity prices in New Delhi. He then restored an electricity connection himself, which of course is illegal.

Kejriwal is keeping others busy too. The BJP is supporting Kejriwal, while Congress politicians are doing their best to defend Vadra.

Meanwhile, the BJP and Congress have lashed out at rural development minister Jairam Ramesh  for his comment that there are more temples in the country than toilets (Is there a sharp and obsessive-compulsive statistician out there who can tell us if it’s true?). They’ve said he should not make such statements because they hurt “fine fabric of faith and religion” in the country.

Luxury toilet row raises stink for Indian govt

Every morning, Dharma picks up a bottle of water and heads to a field to defecate. His wife goes to a public toilet nearby. The 29-year-old cobbler has been living and working in India’s capital for over ten years now, but he still does not have a toilet in his house. Just like millions of Indians.

The employees of the Planning Commission, a government agency, are luckier. They can unburden their bowels in toilets that have been refurbished with a budget of 3 million rupees ($55,000). An additional 500,000 rupees ($9,000) has been spent in installing a security system that ensures only those with a “smart card” can enter.

The expenditure has some politicians and activists up in arms, with members of opposition parties calling it “shocking”.

Human waste corroding Indian railway network

Human faeces is scattered across India’s 64,400 kilometres of rail lines.

One of the world’s largest surface transport networks, carrying 30 million people and 2.8 tonnes of goods daily, is being downed by those using it.

A government panel report this month said that human waste from open-discharge toilets used by passengers is damaging tracks and associated infrastructure.

The report recommended that toilets with nil or harmless discharge be installed within the next five years in all 43,000 carriages used by the railways.

Indian women hard-pressed to relieve themselves

For an Indian man, the entire country is one easy-access urinal. Be it mustard fields, the national highway or the Himalayan foothills — unzipping, unleashing and relieving comes naturally to them. Indian women, unfortunately, do not enjoy the same privilege. For them, infinite patience is a survival skill and a big bladder a necessity.

Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan seems to empathise with the pain of the Indian woman. He wants to “dedicate” his life to building public utilities for women across India. “I want dignity and respect to be brought to women,” he said at an event in Mumbai.

It is a shame that the government has still not woken up to this disparity in India’s infrastructure. Be it urban areas or villages, clean public toilets for women remain an alien concept in India.

It pays to use an Indian public toilet

rtr1e5ov.jpgLast month, authorities in a southern Indian state fined people caught urinating in public view for a few days.

This week, officials in a remote town started offering people money for using public urinals.

Quite amused reading these news items, I wonder whether we are witnessing the winds of change finally in India or are we just watching another piece of local image-building exercise before elections ?