By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
In his very first Independence Day speech last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it amply clear that he wanted a clean India which would be free, most importantly, from open defecation. To this end, the campaign Swachh Bharat was launched. The need for providing toilets in all the government schools, along with separate ones for girl students, was also noted by the PM. The ministry of Human Resource Development subsequently started the initiative Swachh Vidyalaya (Clean Schools) for this purpose. The plan was to provide toilets in all government schools, with separate ones for girls, by next year.
Cut to 2015. In his Independence Day speech earlier this year, the PM said that the target had been achieved. “Despite having to construct 425,000 toilets in 262,000 schools in the country within the span of a year, the country has successfully done it,” he said, according to a report by IANS.
However, the PM’s claims have been countered by independent experts and commentators.
In order to check upon the contesting claims, Youth Ki Awaaz decided to pay a visit to some of the far-flung areas on Delhi’s outskirts.
I picked two places: Trilokpuri and New Seemapuri, and the nearby Sunder Nagari. Both lie on the outskirts of Delhi, with a pre-dominantly working class population, including migrant labourers. It is quite likely that their children are the first generation not dependent on defecating in the open, which is what makes it even more imperative that the scheme be a success in these areas. It isn’t.
In all of these areas, the state of toilets remains woefully inadequate. Not only are there very few toilets for a large number of students, they often remain in a very dirty condition, without any adequate arrangement for running water, according to students and parents I spoke with.
Currently, 16 schools are functional in Trilokpuri which are run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Apart from them, the Delhi government runs another eight schools in the area. A similar number of schools are run in New Seemapuri as well.
The principals in these schools spoke about the lack of janitors and having to accommodate many more students than originally sanctioned, leading to further worsening of conditions when it came to toilet facilities. However, except in a couple of cases, no principal was keen on an inspection of the toilets; in one case, the principal at one of the schools said that she could not even speak on the issue without “orders from above”. At an MCD school in Trilokpuri, the principal, who did not wish to be named, admitted, “We should have more janitors. Sometimes, I have to hire extra workers with my own money.”
At another school nearby, only 10 toilets were available for 500 girls, with two janitors working in alternate shifts. The toilets were dirty, with stains on the toilet seats sticking on, despite one of the janitors scrubbing diligently; it was quite obvious that he had been put in service following my arrival. The principal was insistent that no photographs should be taken of the three toilets in that block, nor did she want her name to be given out. Like the other principal, she too agreed that it was very difficult to keep the toilets clean with only two janitors.
At the Delhi government-run school in block number 27, which was singled out by concerned parties for being most dismissive about complaints regarding the condition of toilets, the principal refused to answer any questions and asked for a “letter from above” before she could respond.
At a senior secondary school in Sunder Nagari, which has over 3000 students although it is supposed to accommodate only 1800, the situation of the toilets was appalling. I was escorted to the toilets by students who seemed keen to register their grievances. I inspected two toilets for boys. One had urine running all over the floor of the room, making a slimy layer which made it difficult to reach the toilets. The other loo had faeces lying around, unwashed. The boys said that they had to go home if they wanted to use the toilets for a longer period.
The principal said that there were eight “toilet blocks” in the entire school, with only three janitors. He admitted that the number of janitors was insufficient to keep the toilets and school premises clean. Incidentally, he complained bitterly that students had taken to urinating in the school premises, citing a couple of times when he caught them doing so.
The situation was no better in New Seemapuri.
I also spoke to activists from a local NGO, JOSH, which released a report on the poor situation with regard to toilets in Delhi’s government schools last year, and Pardarshita, which also works on education related issues in Delhi’s government schools. While JOSH works in Trilokpuri, Pardarshita works in New Seemapuri.
JOSH had said in its report that nearly half of the schools in the capital did not have separate toilets for girls and boys. However, most schools in these two localities had separate toilets for both sexes, according to activists, parents and students; in some places the toilets were common and used by boys and girls in alternative shifts.
The activists from JOSH said that they had organised a campaign last year, after PM Modi spoke about the issue on Independence Day. “We asked the girls to speak up. Many of them complained to us about the poor condition of toilets in their schools. However, when the authorities in these schools came to know that girls were complaining, they threatened them with poor marks which made many of them back down,” said Jyoti Mhore, an activist with JOSH. I met several parents and students who repeated these charges.
“They intimidate us and our children if we complain about the poor toilet facilities. They threaten us with deducting the their marks in exams,” said Sunita Kumari, whose child studies in one of the schools in the area.
As Andres Hueso, a policy analyst with Wateraid, rightly said in his piece last year after Modi’s Independence Day speech,“Modi’s ongoing display of political commitment around sanitation is crucial in a country that houses over 60% of the world’s open defecators. The unhealthy environments resulting from 600 million people defecating in the open have terrible health impacts, which are borne especially by children: nearly half (48%) of under-fives are stunted – and over 200,000 die yearly from diarrhoea – unparalleled figures compared to countries with similar income levels. Open defecation also has broader impacts on the wellbeing of the country as a whole, affecting education, income, gender, equity and dignity.”
Clearly, it is a long way to go before success can be expected in the Swachh Vidayalaya Mission.
Image source: Abhimanyu Singh