The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognizance of an Indian Express report that a primary school in Sahari, Binpur Assembly Segment in Jangalmahal area of West Bengal “may close soon due to non-availability of water”.
The Commission has observed that the contents of the media report, if true, raise a serious issue of violation of rights to education and health of the girl students enrolled in the school. It has issued notices to the Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal and District Magistrate, West Midnapore calling for reports within two weeks.
The Indian Express report, published on April 3 noted that the school had 60 students, and 10 toilets – none of which were functional. The Sahari Primary School is at an Assembly segment reserved for tribals and before elections, politicians have turned up inaugurating new toilets, but never bothered to provide them with water.
A chronic shortage of water has led to Sahari village being nicknamed ‘Jangalmahal’s Sahara’. A street protest by villagers last month forced the government to hurriedly install two plastic water tanks near the school on Monday — but that just wasn’t enough.
“The two tanks were almost like a taunt. There is no water in this village. The water was over even before school began at 11am. A villager here will give you food, but you won’t get any water to drink. When the children need to use the toilet, they have to go back home,” Tapan Murmu, the school’s headmaster had told Indian Express.
The 10 toilets were built in three spurts — four toilets each were inaugurated before the 1999 and 2005 Assembly elections, when the Left Front was in power. Two more toilets, with a sign that says ‘Girl’s Toilet’, were built after the Trinamool Congress government took over in 2011.
The solitary tubewell was never upgraded until late last month, when the tanks were set up. Earlier in February, while inaugurating a piped drinking water project at adjacent Belpahari in West Midnapore, the state minister for Public Health Engineering & Panchayat and Rural Development, Subrata Mukherjee, had said that the government would “supply filtered water to every family by 2020”. At an election rally in Silda recently, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke of the project, and vowed to “bring water to Binpur”.