The Bombay High Court (HC) on Monday, September 5, lambasted the Maharashtra government’s education department over the delay in framing a policy on clean and hygienic toilets in government schools for the girls in both the urban and rural areas.
While hearing the PIL, a division bench of Justices Prasanna Varale and Sharmila Deshmukh said it was “pained by the sorry state of affairs”.
Moreover, taking a jab at the state government, the bench asked if it was powerless or waiting for some auspicious day to frame a policy on the issue?
The court was hearing a petition filed by two law students Nikita Gore and Vaishnavi Gholave, raising concerns over the central and state governments not implementing effective menstrual hygiene management resulting in women, and particularly adolescent girls, facing problems.
The petition also pointed out the issue of unclean and unhygienic washrooms and toilets for girls in government aided schools. If reports are to be believed, one of the petitioners had visited 16 state-run schools in the city and had found that the washrooms were either unusable or insufficient.
Hence, the advocates for the petitioner submitted that while the condition of washrooms in urban areas was deplorable, the condition of washrooms in rural areas could be much worse. Hence, steps needed to be taken to address the problem immediately.
the Maharashtra District Legal Services Authority (MDLSA) carried out a survey of schools in Mumbai city, suburbs and neighbouring districts and a report was submitted to the court on Monday. As per the report, 235 schools were surveyed out of which the condition of toilets in 207 schools was found below standards.
After perusing the report, the HC said the condition of toilets in schools was very bad. “And the report is about schools in urban areas like Mumbai suburbs. If this is the situation in urban areas, just imagine the situation in rural areas. What are the state government’s education officers doing? Is it not the duty of your (government) officers to carry out periodic checks once in three months? If this is the scenario in urban areas, look at the plight of those in remote areas?” Justice Varale sought to know.
The HC observation was made after perusing the report submitted by the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority (MSLSA), which had conducted surprise inspections in schools based on a previous HC order.
The report stated that though there was a policy for separate washrooms for girls and boys, the same were insufficient in urban schools and the situation was much worse in rural schools. The HC directed the state and the petitioner to go through the report and file affidavits.
The bench further noted in reference to the MSLSA report, “Not only the rural areas, even most urban areas, even suburbs of Mumbai have unhygienic washrooms. What are your education officers doing, are they only interested in issues like transfer, absorption?” The bench also questioned Samant on whether there was any report of education inspectors reporting to superior officers about unhygienic conditions, leave aside extra washrooms.
Directing the state to go through the report, the bench and said, “It is not only a question of awareness about essential hygiene but it is also pertaining to the need for additional washrooms. Rather than the school department waiting for a complaint, department officers should also go on their own visits.”
The bench then directed the state to respond and posted the hearing of the PIL after four weeks.