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September 24, 2013 by

How can a municipal body plan for new public toilets in the city when it does not have adequate information about the location and condition of existing toilets, and does not have the time to physically survey 426 square kilometres of its territory in a matter of days? In lieu of a physical survey, Transparent Chennai proposed the next best alternative – a virtual mapping of the locations of existing toilets and identifying space for proposed ones. The Corporation of Chennai is planning to install prefabricated toilets in the city but it does not have the information it needs to make informed decisions on issues such as where to locate toilets, how many toilets the city needs, and the type of users the toilet should primarily cater to. The data created during this mapping exercise has the potential to change the way the Corporation works – from its usual “fire fighting” problem-solving mode, to a less frenzied and more considered view of how best to plan for the city.

Over three weeks, nearly all the 200 junior engineers (JEs) in the city streamed into our office armed with lists containing addresses of existing and proposed toilets, and paper maps of their wards. Using Google Engine Lite, they marked the locations of the existing toilets with placemarks and added descriptions to each toilet point as well – how many seats the toilet had, whether it was being used, or whether it had gone to cede and was slated for demolition. Adding the location of the proposed toilets was not so simple. The JEs had some spirited discussions amongst themselves and there was some back and forth with their colleagues in field to resolve various issues like whether there would be space for the proposed toilet, whether it was too close to a place of worship and whether there would be any objection from the public. After the exercise, we downloaded the KMLs from Maps Engine Lite, converted them into shapefiles and then – voila – prepared some maps!

Image 1: Map of the location of existing and proposed toilets in Zone 9

During this exercise, the problems with municipal data and the way the municipality functions became all too apparent. For instance, the list of proposed locations for toilets was created sometime ago and the officials who had contributed to the list have since been transferred to other posts. The current group of JEs were not all aware of this list and had a slightly different view of where, if at all any, new toilets should be constructed. They were not aware of the design of the new toilets and had the standard design of CoC toilets in mind when estimating space availability. There was also no clarity on the methodology and criteria used to draw up this list of proposed locations for toilets. Interestingly, many toilets that were in the list of existing toilets existed only on paper but had been demolished in reality. This list was not updated with the latest information and this is probably why the sum total of toilets in Chennai changes from day to day (Table 1). What I found most interesting was that some JEs were reluctant to propose new toilets because they did not want to add the maintenance of the new infrastructure to their list of responsibilities!




Newspaper reports (here and here)


Informal discussion with reporters


Informal discussion with Corporation officials

Table 1: Several estimates for the number of public toilets in Chennai

Our mapping methodology had some glitches too – our internet connection failed several times, and Google Streets basemap was not very accurate. Many small streets were absent from the map, some roads meandered in the wrong direction and slums were often depicted as grey areas with no detail. Many JEs, particularly those working at the periphery of the city, had trouble finding landmarks to navigate through their wards. In sharp contrast to this, the paper maps that they had for reference were very detailed and came in handy. Many JEs had added details like sewer lines, lamp posts, manhole covers and other details with pens of different colours. These maps, if scanned and digitised could form a basemap of Chennai that is rich in information and locally prepared. Perhaps this is what we can do to create a repository of data about the city that can be used for the planning and monitoring of all civic services in Chennai.

Written by Vinaya Padmanabhan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

September 19, 2013 by

Over the past few weeks I have been engaged in a roadwar. No, not a road war, a roadwar. The existence of this mystical creature first surfaced during my attempts to access data about existing footpaths and to identify discrepancies … Continue reading

September 17, 2013 by

Over the past few years, Transparent Chennai has worked with interns and volunteers to increase number of bus routes for which stop-by-stop information is available on our website using an interactive search feature. Now we’re going to make it easier … Continue reading

September 14, 2013 by

Over the past few weeks, we have blogged about our experiences in Nanganallur and KK Nagar. In our attempts to initiate the process of advocating for a better walking environment within the neighbourhoods of Chennai, we have been able to … Continue reading

September 11, 2013 by

In our ongoing study on the quality of civic data in Chennai and the implications on the push for open data, the team has been speaking with Corporation of Chennai’s officers to understand data for three civic services: water and … Continue reading

September 7, 2013 by

Transparent Chennai recently undertook an exercise to map clusters of the homeless population in the city, by getting together representatives of various non-government organisations (NGOs). According to a survey undertaken by the Chennai Corporation, the number of homeless persons in … Continue reading

September 5, 2013 by

I recently visited a ward office near Mylapore to further my understanding of how public toilets in the city are maintained and managed. I had a list of pertinent questions on toilets (who is responsible? how are funds sanctioned? how … Continue reading

September 3, 2013 by

Recently, I took a train from Nungambakkam to Guindy. I had been travelling by train only for about a month at the time, and was a first-time season ticket user. I was stopped by a ticket collector at the Guindy … Continue reading

August 13, 2013 by

On August 4th, Transparent Chennai held its first community meeting in KK Nagar to bring the residents of the locality together advocate for improvements of pedestrian infrastructure in KK Nagar. About 25 residents from the community including the ward councillor, … Continue reading

August 8, 2013 by

Transparent Chennai was recently invited by the Information Resource Centre for Urban Deprived Communities (IRCDUC) to provide training on slum policy and the implementation of the JnNURM and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), to their community trainers in Madurai and Coimbatore. … Continue reading