Sanitation in schools

The inequities in infrastructure could not be starker. While several schools continue to deny the most basic sanitation facilities for poorer children, a select band of them dangle air-conditioned classrooms and dormitories and other accessories before the more affluent ones. Repeated knuckle-rapping by the Supreme Court over the years has evidently had little effect on State administrations, as the case of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana illustrates. In October 2012, the Court had issued orders for the building of toilets in all schools within six months. That stricture was a sequel to a similar kind of intervention the year before. The Supreme Court had stepped in yet again last year, but to little avail. Matters have got no further in 2015. In this latest instance, a two-judge Bench has been constrained to spell out to the governments of the two neighbouring States as to what type of structures were acceptable as safe and clean toilets. That is proof enough that official specifications were violated both in letter and spirit. Such complacency on the part of the authorities would hopefully be history given the increase in funding for the purpose ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence day address.

Not unrelated to the situation in schools is the equally callous attitude of many States with respect to the enforcement of the ban on manual scavenging that was legislated over two decades ago. Underlying the indignity heaped on public sanitation workers, as well as the insanitary conditions in schools, is a mindset of complete denial; that, if anything, compounds the problem. The detrimental long-term effects, especially upon girls, of prolonged lack of access to toilets have been well-documented. Where facilities exist, they are effectively rendered dysfunctional because of the most unhygienic conditions in which they are invariably found. This aspect may be linked also to the  ratio of toilet facility to user of 1:40 for girls and 1:80 for boys, as per norms laid down by the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. Conversely, the UNICEF standard provides one toilet for 25 girls and a toilet and urinal for 80 boys. The adoption of best practices in one area would critically influence behaviour with respect to other health and sanitation indicators. Schools thus play a pivotal role in inculcating clean and healthy habits among children, families and the wider community. Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is a torch-bearer of the country’s information and technology revolution. His counterpart in Telangana, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, won statehood on a promise of development for the people. They have both committed themselves to realising Mr. Modi’s mission of Swachh Bharat. They have their task cut out. A toilet is not a luxury — not for human beings.

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