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2017-11-10 16:28:28

Unprecedented commitment towards eliminating open defecation in India needs a human rights lens - UN expert Léo Heller

Visiting India at the crucial juncture of the rapid progress towards eliminating open defecation through the Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan), the UN Special Rapporteur called on all levels of the Government of India to incorporate a human rights perspective in its national programmes on water and sanitation.

“Everywhere I went, I saw the logo of the Clean India Mission - Gandhi’s glasses. In its third year of implementation, now is a critical time to replace the lens of those glasses with the human rights lens,” said Léo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The Clean India Mission is a national scheme inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India in 2014. The primary objective of the Mission is to eliminate open defecation through the construction of individual and community toilets and to encourage toilet usage. The Government of India is aiming to achieve an “Open Defecation Free” India by 2 October 2019. In the last 3 years, in rural areas alone, 53 millions toilets have been built.

“Eliminating open defecation is not only about building latrines, but requires adequate methods for behaviour change, and sufficient water supply is a pre-requisite for the sustainable and safe use of adequate, low-cost latrines,” the UN expert stressed in his statement on the last day of the visit.

“The Indian Government’s emphasis on constructing toilets should not overshadow the focus of drinking water provision for all and it should not involuntarily contribute to violating fundamental rights of others, such as those specific caste-affected groups engaged in manual scavenging, or those who are marginalized such as ethnic minorities and people living in remote rural areas.”

The right to water and the right to sanitation are distinct but integrated rights. Just as water and sanitation services go hand in hand, the rights to access water and sanitation must be addressed as a package.

The Special Rapporteur noted that India needed to provide sanitation facilities that were not shared with other households and access to safe and continuous drinking water on premise, in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

“To achieve this, considerable efforts will be required, in particular to provide individual households solutions to those who currently rely on community toilets and public taps,” the Special Rapporteur noted.

Heller conducted a two-week official visit to India at the invitation of the Government from 27 October to 10 November 2017. He met with representatives of the central, State and local government, as well as members of civil society organizations.

He also visited Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Kolkata and Imphal, and talked to numerous residents about their access to essential water and sanitation services.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report of his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2018.

Léo Heller (Brazil), was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation in November 2014. He is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and was previously Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.



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