Two judges in separate cases have clearly held sanitation as a Fundamental Right within the meaning of the Constitution
Himachal Pradesh High Court has recently held that right to sanitation has been now virtually accepted as constitutional right as fundamental rights like right to water, health, healthy environment, education, and right to dignity are directly related to right of sanitation.
A Division Bench of Justices Sanjay Karol and Sandeep Sharma held that in view of ever expanding definition of right to life, citizen of the country are certainly entitled to civic amenities and medical aid, during the course of his / her travel, which he / she undertakes, by whatsoever mode of transport, on the State / National Highways.
“Bare necessities of life includes 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,” the court held.
The Bench also observed that with a large number of pronouncements having been made by various constitutional courts of this country, more particularly, Supreme Court, Article 21 of the Constitution of India protects right to life as a fundamental right, wherein its meaning / scope has been considerably expanded by the judicial pronouncement, as a result of which, enjoyment of life and its attainment including the right to life with human dignity has been imparted as a basic fundamental right right of citizen of the country.
While dealing with another Case, Justice Sanjay Karol called for the status report on the availability of various sanitary facilities, if any, on the National/State Highways in the State of Himachal Pradesh. The government informed the Court that on a broad estimate, more than 500 buses daily ply in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Then the Court registered this matter as a PIL.
In the aforesaid background, the Court was of the definite view that the state is under obligation to provide basic amenities to the citizens of the country while ensuring that their right of sanitation is not defeated. Definitely, citizens travelling on State/National Highways, need to be protected from open defecation, untreated disposal of waste into streams and contamination of water supplies, which could be caused by the heavy influx of tourists and lack of proper amenities in the state.
The Court held that the non availability of public conveniences on the state as well as National Highways in the State of HP shall further add to pollution in the state. Apart from that, Himachal Pradesh being most favourite fascinating tourism destination is bound to receive lots of tourists from various states of the country as well as other parts of the world.
“The situation is alarming and in case adequate steps are not taken by the respondents immediately, great damage would be caused to the ecology of the state and apart from that, there may be outbreak of epidemic which may cause serious threat to the citizens of the state.”
The Court held that it is required to be done at war footing by the respondents to provide public convenience on the State as well as National Highways that too at after certain distances.
The Court has issued the following suggestions;
• Public toilets can be constructed at places, which could be easily located by the public at large and in this regard sign boards of “ Public Toilets” or “ Private Toilets” should be displayed;
• Free services should be provided in cases of public toilets and charges could be prescribed for private toilets and in all toilets, staff should be provided to take care and maintain the same;
• The facilities should be easily accessible by the ladies walking or driving on the roads, and not be dangerous or inconvenient so as to encourage its use by the ladies;
• The facilities should have proper disposal system for disposal of sanitary napkins;
• It is necessary to ensure the safety and security of women, proper action should be taken against the male members/attendants, if they are found sitting outside the ladies toilets in a drunken state;
• Authorities may also consider it to make it necessary/mandatory for all the Dhabas/ Restaurants on the highways to make available public toilets for the use of general public, rather authorities while granting permission to such Dhabas/ Restaurants shall consider incorporating specific conditions with regard to provision of toilets and rest rooms and to maintain hygiene of the same, failing which their registration/permit to carry out the business could be cancelled;
• Apart from above, there is emergent need to provide medical aid on the highways at appropriate places, so that immediate relief/help is provided to the commuters/travelers in the event of emergency. Needless to say, such medical aid centres aid should be well equipped so that best possible first aid is provided on the requirement basis.
• Authorities may also involve Driver/ Conductor driving their vehicles on these highways in this campaign by specifically directing them to stop their vehicles at a place where commuters/ travelers can avail facility of toilet apart from taking refreshment;
• Authorities may also involve public sector undertaking or private operators in the State of H.P.in this campaign, who come forward to render their help in the greater public interest;
• To engage with Active Civil Society organizations, active individuals as they are key elements that may improve the success rate of campaigns at grassroots level.
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