"Right to Sanitation has been virtually accepted as a Fundamental Right": Patna High Court directs State to set-up public toilets on highways

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The Patna High Court recently observed that the Right to Sanitation has been virtually accepted as a Fundamental Right like the right to water, right to health, right to a healthy environment, right to education, and right to dignity directly related to the right of sanitation.

The court was dealing with a case concerning National Highway Projects in the State of Bihar, in which the Court had already directed the concerned authorities and stakeholders to make available public conveniences on the Highways, more so the National Highways, and to set up Petrol Pumps having such facilities.

A division bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S. Kumar observed that it was the State’s duty to establish sufficient facilities for sanitation and personal care on highways and emphasis was made on the need to ensure that women have adequate sanitation facilities on highways.

“Unlike women, men shamelessly stand on the Highways to ease off themselves, but a society cannot expect the same from the former and therefore it is an urgent duty upon the State/its instrumentalities to ensure that such needs, which are the very definition of basic needs, are met,” stated the division bench.

Court further stated disappointment in the lack of facilities on the highways in the land of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, who “revolutionized the concept of sanitation in India'' by establishing ‘Sulabh Sauchayalas’ across the country.

“Bare necessities of life include proper sanitation facilities as the practice of open defecation or a life with polluted drinking water source and environment cannot be considered as a life of dignity as understood in the context of Right to life under the constitution.” stated the court.

“State is under obligation to provide basic amenities to the citizens on the Highways while ensuring that their right of sanitation/ basic amenities is not defeated," it was added.

Court opined that on a thorough examination of the statutory, constitutional, and international obligations that the Central and State governments were bound to follow, it was found that “the right to sanitation was virtually accepted as a fundamental right” by courts.

Court took note of the lack of adequate sanitation facilities for women and probed, “How would a lactating mother traveling from Kishanganj (farthest District from the capital city of Bihar) to Patna (capital city) feed an infant or ease off herself without any such facilities available on the Highways?"

Furthermore, the court also considered the issue of setting up more petrol pumps on the highways to curb the black-marketing of petrol and diesel.

Court opined that establishing these petrol pumps would ensure sustainability both resource-wise and economically. Benefits arising out of such activity have a social angle as well, Court said.

Thus, the court ordered, “While sanctioning such projects, the authorities should keep in mind the entire gamut of effects that such a decision will have and not just those of economic and social benefit.”

Consequently, in furtherance of the above court issued the following necessary directions:

  • The Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar, to convene a meeting of all stakeholders to examine the best and most efficient way to realize the multifarious benefits arising from the establishment of petrol pumps.
  • The State, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), and the Oil Marketing Companies to consider constituting Public toilets and public conveniences at places easily identifiable and accessible by the public at large, and in this regard, signboards of "Public Toilets" or "Private Toilets" be displayed at the retail outlets. Such facilities should be easily accessible by the ladies walking or driving on the roads.
  • The amenities constructed should be done so, keeping in mind accessibility for persons with disabilities.
  • All toilets are to be adequately staffed for taking care and maintaining the same with a proper system for the disposal of sanitary napkins.
  • Authorities may also consider making it necessary/mandatory for all the Dhabas/ Restaurants on the highways to make available public toilets and drinking water facilities for the use of the general public. While granting permission to such establishments, authorities should consider incorporating specific conditions regarding the provision of toilets and restrooms, also, maintain the same hygiene, failing which their registration/permit is canceled.
  • The authorities may consider the development of a mechanism to (a) Institute a randomized checking system to ensure facilities and resources' quality and proper availability, (b) In consultation with OMCs and furtherance of the Statutory obligation take constructive steps to ensure sustainable use of resources and all other related issues, (c) Prepare a digital platform furnishing complete information about such places of convenience to the general public with a provision of lodging online remarks.

Case Title: The National Highway Projects in the State of Bihar v. The State of Bihar and others