The Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has informed the Bombay High Court that it has constructed 10.87 crore individual household toilets and 85,784 community sanitary complexes (common toilets) in rural areas across India with the assistance of state governments and Union Territories since 2014.
The central government filed an affidavit recently in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) by law students Nikita Gore and Vaishnavi Gholave, through advocate Vinod Sangvikar, that sought a direction to the authorities for effective implementation of the ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management National Guidelines, 2015’.
It also sought various reliefs such as access to affordable and hygienic menstrual absorbents during menstruation, access to toilet to every household, access to separate toilet to every adolescent school girls, including disabled-friendly toilets, basic water and sanitation infrastructure in every school, generating awareness regarding menstruation among others.
A high court bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, which is hearing the PIL, had asked various respondent authorities to file their responses to the plea.
The affidavit, submitted through Maganlal Mangtu Ram, Under Secretary, Union Ministry of Jal Shakti Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation, also informed the court that as yet 94.4 per cent of the households in rural areas have access to toilets, as per recent survey conducted by an independent agency under the World Bank.
“Access to safe hygienic toilets has been provided to rural households under SBM in the form of individual household latrines and community sanitary complexes. The same could be achieved with the construction of more than 10 crore individual household toilets across various states or Union Territories under the programme and states declaring themselves as open defecation-free,” the affidavit stated.
The PIL had also sought a direction to the government to recognise sanitary napkins as an essential commodity by making changes to the Essential Commodity Act, 1955, and supplying the same through the public distribution system (PDS) during the lockdown.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), while showing its willingness to bring sanitary napkins under essential commodities, told the court that a decision may be taken only after following due procedure, which includes understanding market scenario and keeping in mind quality, cost and preferences of the beneficiaries.
The PIL is likely to be heard next week.