KARACHI: The Sindh Bar Council was faced with an unusual request on Wednesday – the Sindh High Court (SHC) issued a notice asking its members to collect details of public toilets throughout the province.
The issue was brought before the court by an NGO, Rah-e-Rast Trust, over the lack of public toilets in Karachi.
Agha Syed Attaullah Shah, the chairman of the trust, pleaded to the court to declare public toilets and toilet users’ rights as fundamental human rights.
Shah explained that citizens in the city, particularly women, were inconvenienced because of the scarcity of public bathrooms. He added that women were forced to use male toilets in case of emergencies.
The chairman suggested that civil society organisations, businesses and other stakeholders in Karachi can be involved in a project to construct separate toilets for women in public places, such as parks, beaches, hospitals and government offices.
He claimed that the city government has failed to build a single public toilet at 182 graveyards and 970 bus stops in the city. “Each of the 970 union councils, in 18 towns, has more than a couple of commercial plazas without public toilets. Over 133 general hospitals or clinics are also without this facility,” he declared.
Public places that lack toilets include the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) office, the town nazims’ offices, the passport office, educational institutions, utility stores, picnic points and tourism spots.
Khursheed Javed, the lawyer representing the local government, submitted that he had already provided a list of public toilets. According to the list, only 19 places in the city have public toilets. Seven other places have been identified where public bathrooms should be provided. Miran Muhammad Shah, the provincial law officer, said such facilities are provided at a district level.
Petitioner’s lawyer claimed that most of the locations where public toilets exist are public buildings, and are not generally in public places.
“This is public interest litigation in relation to public utility services and toiletries by provincial as well as local authorities,” observed Justice Maqbool Baqir, who headed the bench.
The judges issued a notice to the Sindh Bar Council to assist the court through its members throughout Sindh to collect and verify details of public toilets provided by the provincial government’s law officer.
The SHC also allowed an NGO representing disabled persons to join ongoing proceedings.
Junaid Rais, the representative of the Disabled Welfare Association, said disabled people were facing great difficulties, including a lack of ramps and toilets for those who use wheelchairs.
The court directed the law officers appearing for the local and provincial governments to file comments from relevant departments with regard to the provision of ramps and public toilets for disabled people across the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2012.