Millennium Post

Delhi schools stir

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat mission by sporting a broom, sweeping no longer held the taboo it once did. Business magnets, celebrities and political honchos have been seen sweeping floors, by-lanes, etc. It is a welcome change, considering that sweeping was once seen as the duty of the safai karamcharis only. Despite all the glamour surrounding Modi’s pet project, things have not changed much in government schools. Under the mission, the Centre had also planned on building toilets in schools for boys and girls separately, to further push the cleanliness drive. Millennium Post conducted a check at government schools in Delhi to find out whether the cleanliness drive has made any impact or not.

The impact of the Swachh Bharat campaign was visible at a government school at Khichripur in East Delhi. The school looked clean and well maintained. The area where students would collect drinking water, was earlier waterlogged. However, school authorities have now managed to maintain it  better. Replying to a question  about how the cleanliness campaign has changed their condition, school headmaster Tekchand said, ‘It has made a difference. Things have changed and more importantly we have started to feel that it is for our own wellbeing. If the prime minister can take such an initiative, then why can’t we?’ Tekchand asked.

Teaching, as well as non-teaching staff from the school, also echoed the same sentiment. However, at the same time they complained about shortage of toilets at government schools in the national capital. ‘The cleanliness initiative is all well and good. But there is an urgent need to improve toilets to student ratio in schools. For 710 students in our school, we have only two toilets-one for boys and one for girls,’ said a staff member, who does not want to be named. Similar figures came to light after Millennium Post took stock of a government school in South Extension area. The co-ed school, with a total strength of 454 students, has only one toilet for boys and one for girls. Contrary to the shortage of toilets in the school, its principal was happy to show the neat and clean premises of school and toilet. It is important to note here that she was promoted to the post recently.

‘I cleaned my office after taking charge. We have got orders to maintain hygiene in the school, and students have also contributed to maintain general cleanliness. Senior government officials have inspected our school a couple of times,’ the principal said.

When Millennium Post examined the effect of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign at a government school at Vinod Nagar, the situation looked rather desperate. Most of the toilets were blocked, while classrooms were found in a mess. The school administration cited the end of the session as its reason for the poor state of hygiene. Their science lab was found in a decrepit state, with random posters of political candidates found stickled inside the lab. To address the cleanliness issue at schools, the central government has laid out a school maintenance schedule. According to the schedule, some members of the school management committee (SMC) as well as teachers will have to take responsibility for maintaining the school. Members of the SMC, as well as school teachers will have to take responsibility for maintaining the school Operation and Maintenance (O&M) schedule.

The schedule refers to periodic visits by the district/ BRC/CRC staff to check if the maintenance schedule is being followed in earnest. The government has also fixed a ratio of one unit of toilet for 40 students. A unit comprises of one toilet and three urinals. A recently conducted survey titled, ‘The Delhi Story 2014’, has also highlighted the shortage of functional toilets in schools. The survey, which covered 1,823 households and 49 schools, and spread across nine districts of Delhi, was carried out by student volunteers from Delhi University in association with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). According to the report, 43.5 per cent of students said that they did not have functional toilets in their schools and 47.61 per cent said the drinking water facilities were not adequate.

The RTE Act 2009 provides a legally enforceable framework with certain time targets that governments must adhere to. The RTE Act lays down the norms and standards, including drinking water and sanitation for a school building. A school building has to be an all-weather building comprising of at least one classroom for every teacher, barrier free access, separate toilets for boys and girls, and an adequate drinking water facility for all children. But the situation is very different on the ground.

It is a fact that things will not change at one go. It needs a long term plan, which needs to be followed efficiently. Despite the shortfalls, due to limited resources, at least the desire to present an image of cleanliness has come to the fore. However, there is a long way to go before we witness tangible results on the ground.
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