Steel helps unlock sanitation in India’s schools
India’s steel industry – and steel itself – are indispensable in providing the sanitation facilities that the country’s sustainable development requires
The Clean India, Clean Schools Programme, Swach Bharat, Swach Vidyalaya in Hindi, is a nationwide campaign that aims to install hygienic and durable sanitation facilities in all Indian schools by 2nd October 2019, the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.
India’s steel producers, prominent among them Tata Steel Limited, have been manufacturing and installing toilets, sinks and piping to schools in need of improvement across the country. Sanitation and school attendance, particularly among girls and young women, have dramatically improved thanks to their efforts.
Tackling inequality through sanitation
Poor sanitation poses obvious threats to health, but the lack of proper facilities in India’s schools stymies the country’s sustainable development in other damaging ways. Teachers note that when young girls reach puberty and start menstruating, many decide to stay at home rather than face inconvenience and potential embarrassment at school.
“Among the private sector players, steel in particular has developed a very serious vision of trying to do its bit for achieving goal five and goal six among the SDGs.”
Bhaskar Chatterjee, Secretary General, Indian Steel Association
Dasra, an NGO, claims that Indian girls on average are missing as many as five days of school a month compared to boys, exacerbating unequal outcomes in attainment. The steel that the Clean India, Clean Schools programme is built on is therefore advancing the work India is doing in meeting its United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both in expanding sanitation and mitigating gender inequality.
The dual benefits of the programme are noted by Dr Bhaskar Chatterjee, Secretary General of the Indian Steel Association, who says “the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are very important to the world in general, but they are particularly important to India. We in India, the government and of course the private sector, have taken the SDG goals very seriously indeed. Among the private sector players, steel in particular has developed a very serious vision of trying to do its bit.”
A solution forged in steel
Dr Chatterjee notes that there are two key aspects in which the steel industry is involved in the Clean India, Clean Schools Programme. “One was to get the water supply continuously to the facilities. For this we have been using steel pipes, which are anti-corrosive and last a long period of time. Steel companies have also been involved in digging bore wells to ensure a reliable supply of water to installed facilities in rural areas,” all of which, of course, involves machine tools themselves made of steel.
Steel pipes are more durable and corrosion-resistant than pipes made of other materials such as lead or cast iron, both of which are more likely either to contaminate clean water or to leak untreated water into the local environment.
“Steel is a very fundamental material used for building infrastructure”
T.V. Narendran, CEO and Managing Director, Tata Steel Limited
The second aspect to the programme is providing and installing the toilets themselves. Tata Steel’s EzyNest toilets have been at the heart of the company’s contribution. The toilets are quick, simple and cost-effective to manufacture and are designed to be quick and easy to install. Like steel pipes, they are strong and durable. They are also made from hygienic steel, which has a smooth surface and is non-porous, making it very easy to clean properly because bacteria are unable to penetrate its surface.
“Steel is a very fundamental material used for building infrastructure,” says T.V. Narendran, CEO and Managing Director of Tata Steel Limited. “I think it’s very important for a country like India, and for the citizens of India, to understand the importance of cleanliness. I think steel and Tata Steel play a very important role there.”
Delivering a cleaner India and cleaner schools
North of Mumbai and east of the Tungareshwar National Park sits the town of Nala Sopara. Nearby is the government-run Zilla Parishad School for the village of Pelhar. The school is a sturdy, multi-floored building situated alongside the highway, made up of classrooms and hallways with walls covered with the students’ artwork and educational charts. It has recently had a block of Tata Steel’s EzyNest toilets installed. Before this, there were only six toilets for the entire school of 470 students and they were some distance away from the classrooms.
Ayesha Asif Chungani is 13 years old. For her the benefits of the new facilities are clear. “Earlier,” she says, “the toilet was far away and all the girls were afraid to go there. But now, as the teachers keep an eye in the front, and see that no one comes, and nothing happens, we feel very safe. We really like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India campaign).”
With the necessary infrastructure in place, teachers can spend their time instructing their students on imparting good hygiene practices like regular hand washing and the importance of general cleanliness. Dr. Nancy Vincent D’Mello, who has been a teacher for over 20 years, says “the students learn values from their books, but all these good habits are not necessarily present in their practical lives. With proper toilets in school I can show students what to do as well as tell them about it. The Clean India, Clean Schools programme today ensures all these lessons are present in their behaviours.”
Building a sustainable India
The success of a vast, nationwide undertaking like the Clean India, Clean Schools Programme is dependent not just on steel as a material, but the technical and logistical expertise of the people working in the steel industry. Since the installation of the EzyNest toilets in Zilla Parishad, there has a been an increase in attendance across the whole school, particularly, as expected, among the female students.
As Dr Chatterjee puts it, “the steel industry in the national programme of clean water, clean sanitation, clean India has a very very vital role to play and that’s because the steel industry has taken this up as an India-wide, nationwide campaign.”