Statement by India at the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council (10 to 28 September, 2018) on Agenda Item 3: ID with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation delivered by Ambassador Rajiv K. Chander, Permanent Representative of India [10 September 2018, Geneva]

Statement by India at the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council (10 to 28 September, 2018) on Agenda Item 3: ID with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation delivered by Ambassador Rajiv K. Chander, Permanent Representative of India [10 September 2018, Geneva] 


Mr. President,

We thank the SR on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation for presentation of his mission report on India. We appreciate various engagements undertaken by the SR with relevant stakeholders in India during his visit. We note the SR‘s acknowledgement that a two week visit to India would not be enough to develop a holistic perspective on the situation of safe drinking water and sanitation in a large and diverse country like India. It is our considered view that the real human rights scenario with respect to safe drinking water and sanitation issues for the people; encompassing all sections of India, has not been reflected appropriately in the report. The report in certain parts, uses inaccurate, outdated data points, as well as anecdotal evidence to make subjective generalizations.

2. We appreciate the SR’s acknowledgement on the commitment by the Government of India to the Swachh Bharat Mission i.e. Clean India Mission. Drinking water and sanitation are at top of the national development priority. This has been demonstrated by the country’s political commitment at the highest level, with the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi according both sanitation and drinking water his personal priority, which he reiterated in his latest Independence Day address to the country on August 15, 2018.

3. The Swachh Bharat Mission launched in 2014 was devised taking into account the holistic challenges India faces in the areas of sanitation and hygiene. It is essentially a community led people’s movement with a wide focus on voluntary behavioural change and not just construction of toilets. The “millions of toilets” are only the effect, the cause is the mass mobilization for behavioural changes towards sanitation. Referring to it as “merely a counting exercise”, is doing disservice to a movement by the people and of the people, besides being off the mark.

4. You would appreciate that within a short span, the approach adopted under the Swachh Bharat Mission has shown tremendous outcome with rural sanitation coverage in India increasing from 39% in October 2014 to over 90% in August 2018. Over 400,000 of the 600,000 villages in India have been declared free from open defecation. So far, 82.3 million toilets have been built in villages. The recent National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey conducted under the World Bank and under the watch of experts from UNICEF, Water Aid etc., has found the usage of toilets in rural India to be at 93.4%. This shows that toilets are not just being made available, but behaviours are changing. This survey has in fact confirmed that over 95% of Open Defection Free verified villages were indeed Open Defecation Free. Regarding urban sanitation, so far five million seventy one thousands household as well as 395 thousand community toilets have been constructed since October 2014. Nearly 3000 cities have been declared Open Defecation Free.

5. India is bound by a constitutional scheme of rights for ensuring universal access to drinking water for all its citizens. We have a body of federal laws and policies that recognize the right to drinking water, and well laid out norms for service delivery of water supply. The compliance to all these processes is constantly monitored by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation at all levels. True to the principles of cooperative federalism, states have the flexibility to tweak institutional arrangements to suit local requirements and boost efficiency based on their hydro geo morphological requirements. Therefore, it is our considered view that a 'one size fits all' approach as suggested by the UNSR will be detrimental to a vast country of the size of a sub-continent such as India.

6. You would appreciate that since 2009 over $30 billion have been spent by the Central and State Governments towards drinking water supply. States have also evolved systems to monitor availability of minimum levels of service delivery related to water supply.

7. We would like to address the concern of the SR on the suitability of the twin-pit toilet technology for use in India. This technology is best suited for our rural population and has already been accepted by the people. It is not only environmentally friendly but also suitable for waste management by the users. We are proud to share that the WHO in one of its studies released in August 2018 has shown that the SBM-G would prevent over 300,000 diarrheal deaths, and avert over 10.4 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) by 2019. UNICEF in mid-2017 estimated that each household in ODF villages under SBM is saving an average of Rs. 50,000 (over $700) per year due to avoided health costs, lives saved and time saved. We are looking forward to achieve the target of Open Defecation Free India by October 2019. These studies show that the sanitation facilities in India are largely hygienic and safe, and are also potentially reducing fecal contamination of water.

8. The SR’s special focus on “leaving no one behind” found special resonance with the policy of the Government of India. As a State devoted to welfare of all citizens as embodied in Government of India’s vision of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas - All Together and Development for All, the Government gives priority to less advantage section of the society in all its development policies and strives to ensuring an inclusive growth. In line with this, the Clean India Mission has stipulated guidelines that toilet incentives of Rs.12,000 (~$180) should be given to all households of the marginalized sections of the society, especially persons living below poverty line, scheduled castes and tribes, persons with disabilities, widow and older persons, landless labourers, small and marginal farmers in construction of toilets. Similarly, infrastructural projects such as dams and barrages require putting in place adequate safeguards to protect the quality of water bodies. First priority is always given to the drinking water supply in such projects. In fact the state policy in this regard has been affirmative action in favour of the marginalized.

9. On the observation of the SR that the existence of caste based discrimination has led to unequal access to water and sanitation services, we would like to point out that the source cited by the SR to reach this conclusion uses data from the year 2000, which reflects a misleading picture of the reality. We would also like to highlight that the Indian Constitution prohibits any form of caste-based discrimination. Any case of caste-based discrimination is a criminal offence and is liable to harsh punishment. We reiterate that the Government of India has been tackling this centuries old social problem with much vigour and determination at all levels. We are proud of the progress made on the issue through engineering social revolution and strengthening of legal and constitutional provisions.

Mr. President

10. We have taken note of several recommendations of the SR, and we are happy to inform that India already has in place several mechanisms that address most of the recommendations. We remain committed to addressing the rights to safe water and sanitation for all our people, and we will continue to strive further in this regard. We look forward to further constructive engagements with the SR on the subject.

Thank you.

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