Provision of the Sulabh public toilet complexes in public places and slums on ‘pay-and-use basis’ is an important landmark in the field of community health, hygiene and environmental sanitation. Although as far back as 1878, the Bengal Government had enacted a law to set up toilet facilities in Calcutta, but due to many reasons such facilities could not be provided/maintained for the next 100 years. The concept of construction of public toilets and its maintenance on a pay-and-use basis, originated by Sulabh in 1974, was outstandingly successful throughout the country. For some years the behavioural pattern and attitude of people for not using the public toilets already available in cities/towns was studied. It was felt that the most insanitary and filthy state of public toilets deterred usage. It was felt that along with community toilets, if facilities for bathing and washing clothes could also be provided, maintaining cleanliness all around, people would like to use them and also pay for the use.
In 1978 a National Seminar at Patna was organised by the Government of India in collaboration with the WHO and UNICEF in which apart from representatives of the Government of India, Secretaries and Chief Engineers etc. of States participated. In this Seminar the system of twin pit toilets and maintenance of public toilets was discussed and the participants visited households and public toilets to see their functioning. After a great deal of deliberation, it was unanimously recommended that these two technologies methodologies be adopted by other States also. The dissemination of information regarding these innovations spread after the Seminar and now the technology and its implementation has spread from one local body of Bihar state to 1147 local bodies spread over 25 states and 4 union territories of India. Till now more than 7500 such public toilets have been constructed and are being maintained by Sulabh. The biggest public toilet of Sulabh has been constructed at Shirdi, in the district of Nasik, in the State of Maharashtra, having 120 WCs, 108 bathrooms, 28 special toilets (separate for ladies and gents) and 5,000 lockers for the convenience of the pilgrims.
Sulabh toilet complexes are located in public places, bus stands, hospitals, markets and slums. For the construction, operation and maintenance of these complexes, Sulabh plays the role of a catalyst and a partner between official agencies and the users of the toilet complexes. The Sulabh complexes are manned by trained attendants night and day and have separate enclosures for men and women. For washing hands, soap powder is provided. The system of operation and maintenance of community toilets evolved by Sulabh has proved a boon to the local bodies in their endeavour to keep the towns clean and improve environment. This is a unique example of partnership between local authorities, a nongovernmental organisation and the community.