Google teams up with the Indian government to develop toilet locator app

Google has teamed up with the Indian government to develop a toilet locator app that enables users to find public washrooms in order to combat the nationwide problem of open defecation and urination.

The Google toilet locator app, launched in the states of Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, at the moment helps people find access to clean public restrooms. The app, launched on Thursday, will also have a wide range of features such as cleanliness ratings, the style of toilet and if it requires a fee to use.

The app enables users to type words such as "toilet" or "lavatory" or Hindi words like "swachh" and "shulabh" meaning clean to access the closest restrooms in the area, media reports say.

"When you search for 'public toilet' on Google Maps in an area where the service is available, you'll see a list of restrooms near you, including the respective address and opening hours," Sanket Gupta, product manager Google Maps India, said at a launch event in Delhi.

"For instance, if you're travelling on the national highway 8 in Gurugram, locating a public toilet can be challenging and most often the only option is going to nearby restaurants and cafes. Having this information handy can make things much easier."

Access to safe and healthy sanitation is a major problem that India is facing with a number of official surveys pointing to almost 70 percent of Indian households with no access to toilets. As a result, people are forced to defecate in open spaces. The toilet locator from Google aims to provide better access in such situations.

However, critics of this app have said that the use of this service is subject to good network coverage and people knowing how to use maps on smartphones, especially as most of those with no access to proper sanitation are based in rural areas.

"What if you have no internet connection? What if you don't know how to use Google Maps? Unfortunately this is one thing that you can't plan in advance so there are a number of factors that you are dependent on," 21-year old Vikas told CNBC via email.

Meanwhile, as part of an awareness campaign, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has recruited 28 people to wear funny mascot outfits to stop people from defecating and urinating in public. The mascots, who wear masks and yellow costumes, have been instructed to blow a whistle if they spot anyone in the act.

According to government statistics, over five million people in Delhi defecate in the open. Another set of data from the government's slum development agency, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which has been entrusted with the task of making the city open defecation free, reported recently that there are 259 open defecation spots in Delhi.

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