This article on “sanitation and public health in India” is written by Ekta Thanvi, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
This article will focus on understanding the term sanitation, and the laws, and regulations related to sanitation and public health in India. Sanitation can be referred to good health and hygiene for dignified and standard living. According to United Nations (UN) water, sustainable sanitation begins by building toilets that can successfully capture human waste safely and hygienically.
In 2020, United Nations marked November 19 as World Toilet Day to create awareness about the usage of sanitary toilets and the consequences of unsafe sanitation and public health in India. Various provisions have been made in different sectors like schools, workplaces, public toilets, rural areas, urban areas, etc., to maintain hygiene in the country. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal calls all countries to make sure that sustainable management of water and sanitation is available to all.
What is Sanitation?
Sanitation is the process of dealing with human and as well as animal waste and disposing of it safely. Maintaining safe sanitation can improve public health and lessen the chances of deaths due to unsafe sanitation.
United Nations defines sanitation as, access to, and use of, excreta and wastewater facilities and services that ensure privacy and dignity, ensuring a clean and healthy living environment for all. “Facilities and Services” should include the ‘collection, transport, treatment, and disposal of human excreta, domestic wastewater, and solid waste”.
The scope of sanitation at the international level is limited to human waste and hygiene. It differs from the scope of sanitation as understood in India. In India, sanitation not only includes basic hygiene but also environmental quality, rights of sanitation workers, and abolishing unsanitary practices like manual scavenging.
Sanitation Laws and Regulations in India
The right to Sanitation is a part of the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which is justiciable. Also, sanitation is a part of directive principles of state of policy under Part IV of the Indian Constitution.
It is the duty of a state to provide welfare to its citizens, therefore, it is the state’s duty to work towards sanitation in the country and make people realize its significance. In India despite the presence of certain sanitation laws, various government schemes and programmes have been governing the sector. Various initiatives have been taken by the Indian Government to regulate sanitation.
Some important government initiatives are:
1. National Health Policy 2017
The main aim of the National Health Policy, 2017, is to strengthen and prioritize the duty of government in health care and sanitation. This policy also targets for elimination of diseases, reducing premature mortality, and improving health services.
The goal of this policy is to attain the highest, possible level of health and well-being for all ages, through preventive and promotive healthcare orientation, and general access to good quality healthcare services where no one has to encounter any financial suffering as a consequence. The United Nations has determined to support the Indian government in achieving this target of the National Health Policy 2017.
2. Mission Indra Dhanush
This is a health mission of the Government of India launched in 2014. The goal of this mission is to achieve full immunization with all the available vaccines for pregnant women and children up to the age of two years. In the first two phases of this mission, the full immunization coverage increased from 1% per year to 6.7% per year. Till 2017 four phases have been conducted and more than 2.53 crore children and 68 lakh pregnant women have been vaccinated.
To further boost this mission, the government launched the Intensified Mission Indra Dhanush on 8th October 2017. The program aims at reaching every child up to 2 years of age and pregnant women who have been left unsafe. To strengthen the routine immunization coverage in India, the Indian government initiated the Intensified Mission Indra Dhanush 2.0 which aimed at reaching the unreached with available vaccines and stimulating the coverage of children and pregnant women in districts from December 2019 to March 2020.
3. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
This Act aims at banning the practice of Manual Scavenging and the employment of manual scavengers and promoting the rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families.
In 2020, the government introduced The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which aimed at totally mechanizing sewer cleaning, introducing on-site protection, and providing compensation to the families of manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
The bill also proposed to make the construction of insanitary toilets an offence and ban the employment of manual scavengers without protective gears. However, six months after introducing the bill the government declared that there is no intention to amend the 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act.
4. Swachh Bharat Mission
To achieve universal sanitation the Prime minister of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014. Under this mission, all the areas like villages, states, union territories, and districts in India were required to declare themselves “open defecation free” by October 2, 2019. It reconstructed the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan which was initiated in 2009 and it failed to achieve its aims.
5. Sanitation for women
In India, women face two primary sanitation-related issues. Issue related to menstrual hygiene and open defecation problems. Usage of unhygienic products during menstruation can result in infection in the uterus and vagina. So, to promote menstrual hygiene, the Ujjwala Sanitary Napkin initiative was launched in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha in 2018 and it aimed to cover the 2.25 crore women of Odisha.
The main objective of the scheme was to improve accessibility to sanitary napkins. Even Karnataka launched the SUCHI scheme which aims at distributing sanitary napkins to adolescent girls of schools and hostels between the age group of 10–19 years.
In 2014, women and adolescent girls in rural areas were raped when they were out in the evening to defecate in open. Due to this kind of fear, some women hold it or limit their consumption of food and water which increases the risk of Urinary Tract Infections. The Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 aims at finding solutions for sustained behaviour change and addressing women and their hygiene needs.
The Indian Government also launched a scheme under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It was termed as Pradhan Mantri Sauchalay Yojana which aimed at constructing toilets for free in numerous households where such facilities were absent. This scheme played a vital role in providing safety and sanitation to women.
1. The amendment bill for the prohibition of employment of manual scavengers 2020 should be reintroduced and made an act. The proposals of this 2020 bill were of vital importance and the passing of this bill can be a step towards the development of sanitation and hygiene. However, not only making this bill an act is important, but its effective implementation is also required.
2. Awareness should be spread among people about the risk of various infections and diseases due to lack of sanitation. This knowledge will deter people from following unhygienic practices.
The Indian Government has implemented many schemes and policies towards sanitation in rural as well as urban areas such as National Urban Sanitation Policy, Total Sanitation campaign, etc. Effective sanitation and public health in India have become important aims and no one should be deprived of their right to sanitation which is a part of fundamental rights.
There are different reasons why people are unable to maintain hygiene and sanitation. In urban areas the increased population results in poverty, therefore, it becomes difficult for poor people to maintain hygiene. In rural areas, people are superstitious and unaware of sanitation and hygiene and this can result in deteriorating health.
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