New Delhi: Calling for clean and safe toilets in schools, an exasperated Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to submit reports regarding the state of toilets in their schools.
“The states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana...cannot have innovative ideas to construct a structure, christen it as a toilet and thereafter forget it from their memory,” said a bench of justices Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant. After studying reports submitted by a three-member panel that inspected the status of the facilities, the court deplored the inaction shown by the two state governments.
Asking the secretaries of the school education department of the states to report personally in court on 10 March, the apex court said “clean and safe toilets” would help sustain “health conditions of the students who use” these facilities.
The three-member panel had expressed dissatisfaction over the condition of the toilets in schools and told the court that they needed “continuous maintenance”, which the court accepted.
In a 7 July order last year, the court had set up a panel of three lawyers to report on the state of toilet and drinking water facilities in three districts—Vijay Nagar, Visakhapatnam and Chittoor—of Andhra Pradesh. The AP government had said toilets were still to be built in 943 schools.
The apex court has been considering the matter of school toilets in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana since last year, following a contempt petition filed by public interest litigant J.K. Raju against the erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh state for allegedly failing to comply with the directions contained in another apex court ruling, from 2012.
The 3 October 2012 judgment required all states to provide various facilities in schools, including “toilet facilities for boys and girls” within six months of the ruling.
The Supreme Court passed two other orders asking the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh government to provide toilets in all schools by 2013.
The state was bifurcated in June last year.
“It did not happen. The toilets were only on paper. At the ground level, due to various problems like faulty construction, lack of water supply, doors being stolen by locals, the toilets weren’t functioning,” P.A. Devi, a Hyderabad-based activist campaigning for child and women rights, said.
Adding to the problem, the school education department did not coordinate effectively with the gram panchayats (village-level bodies). Some school toilets ended up becoming public toilets as doors were stolen, and anyone could walk in, she said. This forced students to use open spaces, instead of toilets.
“Poor toilet facilities are the No.1 reason for girl child dropouts,” Devi noted. In 2013, a Class IX student in Kurnool district committed suicide after pictures of her defecating in the open were captured on a mobile phone and circulated.
“Harassment complaints have gone up in Rayalaseema,” Devi said. Kurnool is a district of Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh.
“Parents are not sending girls to schools. This is leading to child marriages,” Devi said.
A survey conducted by Left-wing student organization, Students Federation of India (SFI), in Hyderabad, found 33% of toilets in the city’s schools to be unusable. “You can imagine what the situation in the villages is,” Devi said.
A 9 January report in The New Indian Express noted that 80% of schools in Kurnool lack toilets or have defunct toilets.
“Ensuring functioning toilets is very important to contain girl child drop-outs,” Devi said