October 17, 2020
“I think my parents would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.” - J. K. Rowling (b.1966), British writer best known for penning the Harry Potter fantasy series.
The key to the executive bathroom (or comfort room or many of its nominal avatars) is the ultimate aspiration of upwardly mobile senior managers. Executive bathrooms have a critical role in corporate ruling dispensation.
Against this background, it is interesting to look at the status quo of bathrooms meant for students and how the candy is snatched away from them.
Indian public sector units claimed to have constructed 1.4 lakh toilets in government schools as part of a Right to Education project, but almost 40% of those surveyed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) were found to be non-existent, partially constructed, or unused. In an audit report presented in Parliament recently, the CAG said over 70% did not have running water facilities in the toilets, while 75% were not being maintained hygienically.
The Swachh Vidyalaya Abhiyan was launched by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in September 2014 to meet the Right to Education Act’s mandate that all schools must have separate toilets for boys and girls. Lack of dedicated funds, poor maintenance and poor water availability in toilets were identified as major challenges, and central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) were roped in to bridge the gap over a one year period.
There are 10.8 lakh government schools in India. Overall, more than 1.4 lakh toilets were built by 53 CPSEs. The CAG audit conducted a physical survey of a sample of 2,695 toilets built by these companies in 15 States.
Out of that sample, CPSEs identified but did not construct 83. Another 200 toilets were reported to be constructed, but were non-existent, while 86 toilets were only partially constructed. Another 691 toilets “were found not in use mainly due to lack of running water, lack of cleaning arrangements, damages to the toilets and other reasons like use of toilets for other purposes, toilets locked up, etc,” said the audit report. Thus, almost 40% of toilets were non-existent, partially completed or unused.
Out of the 1,967 coeducational schools surveyed, 99 schools had no functional toilets while 436 had only one functional toilet, meaning that the objective of providing separate toilets for boys and girls was not fulfilled in 27% of the schools, said the CAG.
In order to effectively change the behaviour of students, the project norms required the CPSEs to build toilets with running water and hand washing facilities, and to maintain the toilets for three to five years while charging the annual expenses to their CSR budgets.
However, the survey found that 72% of constructed toilets had no running water facilities inside, while 55% had no hand washing facilities at all. The audit also noticed “cases of defective construction of toilets, non-provision of foundation/ramp/staircase and damaged/overflowed leach pit, which led to ineffective use of toilets,” said the report.
With regard to maintenance and sanitation, 75% of toilets did not follow the norm for daily cleaning at least once a day. The survey found that 715 toilets were not being cleaned at all, while 1,097 were being cleaned with a frequency of twice a week to once a month. “Cases of non-provision of soap, bucket, cleaning agents and disinfectants in toilets and inadequate cleanliness of pathway were also noticed,” said the report.
While this situation hurts the dumb-driven students, who are ignorant about their entitlement and deprivation, they are totally ignorant about the fact-findings of CAG.
But the problem spills over beyond the confines of protected schools and becomes a national image (shame) issue. Here is an instance.
I once travelled from Mumbai to Bangalore by air. I sat next to a gentleman who was No. 2 honcho in an Indian world-class conglomerate. He was hosting/escorting a group of foreign industrialists and business leaders to his company’s industrial and architectural showpiece in suburban Chennai, close to the airport. I said: “Why this detour to Chennai via Bangalore?” He said it was to save the cultural shock the visitors would have if they are exposed to the open defecation along the Western Express Highway which they had to pass through on the way to the conglomerate’s downtown corporate headquarters in Mumbai.
Once the visitors were sensitized, and reached the corporate’s show-piece campus, the high-profile visitors were easy and malleable. But, how many Indian corporates can indulge in such luxuries?
There is an alternative of course. This was followed by Prime Minister Modi when he had to escort, earlier in 2020, President Trump from the airport to the stadium, in Ahmedabad, where the latter was promised to be cheered by the largest crowd Trump had ever encountered. A wall was built along the motorcade route so that Trump didn’t have to see the miserable life in the slums. Never mind the Covid-19 spread that followed the stadium drama.
The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Welcome to Reason. Your response is invited in the format given at the end (Pl. scroll down).