The Rs35-lakh toilets at the Planning Commission have gained celebrity status and continue to attract envious badgering, but no politician, pundit, or paparazzi seem to envy the second cabinet minister for tourism promotion.By Vivek Sharma
They are by far the most famous toilets in India at the moment. Renovated at just Rs35 lakh, they sit gloriously in what should now be the best equipped, most attractive, and possibly the most useful, corner of Yojana Bhavan, the citadel of bureaucrats and statisticians who claim to plan for our collective economic future at the Planning Commission.
Because this planning activity has been highly beneficial for the Indian economy ever since the Commission was set up, and because all Indians should be grateful for the Commission's selfless services, nobody should have had any problem with such a small expenditure. It is a miniscule amount, probably smaller than a one point decimal error in the Commission's annual plan outlays. None of us would have ever known that such a thing existed.
Fortunately, that was not to be. A highly civic-minded fellow citizen decided that this fabulous facility that allows our planners to answer nature's call at great comfort and, while doing so, think more deeply about how to plan better, should not be allowed to have such an anonymous existence. The reply to that RTI request gave instant celebrity status to the Commission toilets. They are now so famous and trending on all social media networks that Aamir Khan is hurriedly shooting an episode of Satyamev Jayate about 'toilet injustice'.
Early reports said there are just two toilets, guarded by a high-tech security system that will allow only senior planners with a biometric access card. That was enough to push the country's capital into the kind of toilet envy that has never been witnessed in the city's more than three millennia of existence.
Politicians, pundits, and paparazzi raged against the grave impropriety of our planners enjoying what the rest of us could not. To justify their indignation, they claimed that everyday more than 65 crore people in this country enjoy the gentle breeze, warm sunlight, and the open sky while doing what the planners do in their gleaming toilets. When so many among us don't have access to basic sanitation, how could these planners even think about luxury toilets?
The 2011Census Report supports this claim by asserting that 53 per cent of our fellow citizens directly fertilise agriculture all across our country. But the Census Report is silent on why our forest cover continues to decline, despite such favourable conditions. Maybe the Planning Commission will commission a long-term research project on this, funded by the World Bank and the Japanese government.