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High court slams state for toilet stink

- 80 per cent schools have loos, 47 per cent sans facilities, admits official

Ranchi, Nov. 21: Jharkhand High Court today issued notices to the state chief secretary and two other top bureaucrats, asking them to “explain” the status of school toilets on a day officials attending a Unicef seminar on the same topic were forced to concede the situation was grave.

The high court took suo motu cognisance of a report published in The Telegraph today titled, “Toilet truths flush school dreams”, which examined a Unicef report linking the lack of washrooms to embarrassed and fearful adolescent girls in districts leaving schools for good.

A division bench of Chief Justice R. Banumathi and Justice D.N. Patel issued notices to chief secretary R.S. Sharma, human resource development (HRD) department secretary K. Vidyasagar and primary education director Mamta.

This is the first suo motu PIL by Chief Justice Banumathi after she took over on November 18.

The judges, referring to The Telegraph news report, said the Unicef report revealed girl students, especially menstruating ones, skipped classes or altogether dropped out of schools without proper washrooms.

The bench directed Sharma, Vidyasagar and Mamta to inform how many state-run and private schools had proper student toilets and whether these had adequate water supply. The court also asked the state government to describe their “hygiene standards” and specify if the toilets had doors.

The judges expressed concern on whether children had to go outside campus to relieve themselves. “It would be embarrassing and unsafe for children to go out of school to answer a call of nature,” the court observed.

“The Right to Education Act mandates the government to provide all facilities for students to attend school,” the judges added. The case will again be taken up on January 30, 2014.

At today’s Unicef seminar, Mamta, along with National Rural Health Mission director (Jharkhand) Manish Ranjan, social welfare department secretary Rajiv Arun Ekka, Jharkhand Rural Health Mission state programme manger (acting) Akay Minz and others, admitted that school toilets were in bad shape.

“Eighty per cent schools in Jharkhand have toilets, but some 47 per cent toilets don’t have basic facilities. It is definitely a concern,” Mamta said, hearing out the Unicef report where 4,500 respondents, including 1,800 girls, across Gumla and East Singhbhum, had participated in July.

Ranjan expressed his concern for rural schoolgirls and said holistic programmes were needed to ensure their health and education.

“In Jharkhand, 33 lakh girls are between ages of 10 and 19 years, 10 per cent of our population. According to education department data of 2009-10, a whopping 95 per cent of girls in the age group of 16-17 years are not in schools. It is painful to see 52 per cent girls getting married before 18,” he said.

Mamta added the ignorance of girls on menstrual hygiene was worrying. “We propose to start an awareness event for girls of Classes VI and VIII across Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas,” she said.

Admitting that “very less is done in comparison to what is promised or said”, Ekka said: “Livelihood issues should be the central point of schemes. Only then can rural development schemes succeed. On menstrual hygiene of schoolgirls, we need to act holistically, involving families and society.”

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