Now, a spat over Gandhi glasses

Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic glasses sparked a war of words on Friday after a top official of the UN commented on India’s flagship Swachh Bharat Mission, prompting a sharp government response.

Addressing presspersons in Delhi, Leo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, said the programme’s use of Gandhian symbolism should be replaced with human rights concerns to address problems of manual scavenging.

“Everywhere I went, I saw the logo of the Clean India Mission — Gandhi’s glasses. In its third year of implementation, now is a critical time to replace the lens of those glasses with the human rights lens,” Mr. Heller said.

Hinting at the caste roles that influence traditional sanitation practices, Mr. Heller said those sections of society that were carrying on with manual scavenging should be included in the focus of the programme.

‘Baseless assertions’

Terming Mr. Heller’s observations “unsubstantiated”, an official statement said the “Government of India has deplored the serious insensitivity towards the Father of our Nation shown by Mr. Leo Heller ... The Central government strongly rejected his mostly baseless assertions and reiterated that the Swachh Bharat Mission and rural and urban drinking water programmes fully conform to the Human Rights Criteria and Principles (as established by the UN system).”

The sharp response is unexpected as Mr. Heller’s two-week visit was the result of an invitation from the government. His press interaction came at the end of his visit from October 27 to November 10, during which he met State and Central-level officials engaged in the central cleanliness drive.

The government’s statement accuses Mr. Heller of making “sweeping generalisations” and claims that do not reflect the reality. It rejects his contention that there is inadequate attention to water supply and observes that since the 2009 launch of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, ₹1,20,000 crore has been invested by the Union government and the States into the rural drinking water sector and ₹40,000 crore has been invested in the urban water supply since 2005. “The government has the highest commitment to human rights in general and particularly in the water supply and sanitation sectors and strongly rejects the claims in the UNSR’s report and press statements,” the statement said.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 11:29:08 AM |

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