Now, thanks to the Central Government’s Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidhyalaya Abhiyan, all required toilets i.e. 963 [773 for girls and 190 for boys] are going through different phases of either improvement or reconstruction. Among these, 280 [233 girls+47 boys] have been sanctioned for East district, 96 [77+19] for North, 272 [228+44] and 315 [235+80] for West and South districts respectively. The government is spending Rs. 3 lakhs per unit and a sum of Rs. 28.89 crores has been sanctioned for the required 963 toilets. It needs to be clarified here that it is not as if these schools do not have any toilets, just that they are need of improvement or reconstruction as the case may be.
The data further reveals that a total of 51 toilets [26 boys + 25 girls] in schools across the state were not suitable for use and will be repaired under this abhiyan. It was interesting to find out that a Lower Primary School in West Sikkim had girls and boys toilets but were all unsuitable for use. Even more interesting is the data that shows total enrolment of just 4 students in that particular school. The toilets did not obviously become unsuitable because of overuse.
The question that arises here now is whether Sikkim schools really lack toilets? The answer is no. Almost every school in Sikkim has/ had toilets but due to lack of care and maintenance most of them can no longer be used. On enquiring, some headmasters and teachers working in schools below the Junior High School level, revealed that the toilets have become dysfunctional because of shortage of water. In most of the schools there are water connections but the pipes run dry most of the time. When teachers and students do not even have water to drink, the cleaning of toilets becomes impossible, and soon the facility becomes impossible to use any more.
Another problem faced by below primary level schools is that they do not have non-teaching staff to manage the school. It is very difficult for teachers to direct primary level children to clean and maintain the toilets properly.
Thirdly, most of the rural schools are located in remote corners. During long winter vacations, the local people and even outsiders use the school playground. Sometimes these people forcibly break into the toilets and not just use them but also, in a destructive trend which is disappointingly common, also damage the school infrastructure.
With this ongoing abhiyan, all the 774 goverment schools of Sikkim will now hopefully be better appointed with proper toilets for girls and boys. It is up to the School administration, School Management Committee and local panchayat to come up with ideas and solutions to maintain these toilets properly so that they remain functional for longer. It is also necessary for every school to urge the panchayat members to ensure proper supply of water in the schools.
It is also the responsibility of SMC members, parents and neighbours to look after the school properties during vacations. The people cannot rely completely on such abhiyans where the government spends huge amounts on infrastructure development of all schools in the state.